The major difference between Facebook and Google+ is that
instead of having a massive friend list, users collect each other
into groups, such as family, work and friends, called "circles."
This context has been missing from Facebook and has gotten some
people in hot water -- for example, those who post their wild
weekend party photos that may be seen by family and colleagues. And
on Google+, there are no friend requests. People do not need to
agree to be friends with one another and can view updates without
sharing their own.
While executives declined to say what their are doing with
Google+ when it comes to advertising -- for example, will brands be
able to create "circles"? -- they did say that +1, an icon launched
recently that is now integrated into Google+, is operating with
ads. The +1 service allows users to click on the icon, indicating
they like that search result. Google+ follows the search company's
failed attempts at the social web -- Buzz and Orkut -- and could be
a huge deal for Google if people are willing to participate in yet
another social network.
But the bigger play here is to harness the data about human
connections generated by the social web and apply that to search
and even display advertising. The rise of Facebook meant that a lot
of this emerging activity was taking place inside a walled garden
that was largely invisible to Google.
"Google rose to prominence because the web became open and they
made it sourceable and discoverable, so this is a preemptive strike
on Google's part," said Steven Rubel, exec VP-global strategy and
insights for Edelman, explaining that as people spend more time
inside walled gardens such as Facebook and mobile apps, Google
loses its power to search and monetize that walled-off content.
"Now they have a leg in the game in a world where people spend less
and less time on the web."
Mr. Rubel may be right. While Google continues to be one of the
most visited sites -- ComScore showed 180 million people visiting a
Google property in May -- Facebook is catching up. But Facebook
users spent an average of 375 minutes on the site during May --
close to 3 hours more than the 231 minutes they spent on
Google+ will give Google a place for users to create their own
content -- the stuff we're used to because of Facebook -- such as
user conversations, their photos and the links they share, plus
group text messaging and video chat. Since it belongs to Google, it
will all be searchable and monetizable -- just the way Google likes
While people are not in immediate danger of losing the
searchable, open web, the phenomenon can occur slowly over the next
decade as mobile and apps become more and more dominant in how
users consume information. "It's like a receding hairline," Mr.
Rubel said. "You look in the mirror when you're 29 and think, 'Oh,
it's not that bad' and wake up at 40 looking like Kojak."
Google executives said that getting social information on their
users will improve Google products across the board -- by allowing
personalization. Most of Google's most popular products such as
search, maps and YouTube do not require a login, which limits what
Google knows about its users.
But social has never been Google's bag. "It would take a seismic
shift for people to take their social stuff to Google," said Deep
Focus CEO and founder Ian Schafer, who said that the real
earth-shattering use for Google+ is in mobile, not social
networking. "The biggest implication for Google+ is mobile," Mr.
Schafer said. "For example, for people to be creating content
wherever people are and using that to deliver messages to them and
close the loop on sales. The promise of Google+ is closing the loop
on social CRM."
For advertisers and brands, the potential is immense. "A
connection made with a brand in Google+ can eventually be tracked
to a purchase," Mr. Schafer said. "If we can create relevant brand
engagements with people and give them an ability to purchase the
product at a later date -- whether that 's three, six or 18 months
later -- this brings us back to social ROI."
Indeed, metrics and analytics is one area where Facebook falls
behind Google when it comes to advertising. When asked what she'd
like to see from Facebook, Coca-Cola's head of integrated marketing
and communications Wendy Clark said she wanted a good way to
measure social media success.