It has been a couple weeks since Google launched their social networking service, Google+, and there is a wide variety of opinion on whether or not Google will beat Facebook at their own game. After using the new service for a few days, I think Google has a very good chance of giving Facebook a strong #2 competitor (think Apple & Android in smartphones) if not overtake them much in the same way Facebook overtook MySpace. But the main factor is not how innovative parts of Google+ are but their key differentiator:
Google has the scale, talent, and vision to lead the social-mobile web.
Much like Apple has led the so-called, “post-PC era,” Google has the opportunity to shape the social and increasingly mobile web with an end-to-end experience. They already have 200 million Gmail users who will find it easy to sign up for Google+ once one of their contacts puts them in a Circle. If only a third of those users migrate, the user base of Google+ will be larger than MySpace. It is also not out of the question for Google to reach Twitter’s 200 million user mark within the first year since their combined value proposition will bring some of the Facebook user base over.
But even 200 million active users is a long way from Facebooks’ 750 million so I expect Google to settle into the #2 spot for the foreseeable future. But that could change in the long-run with some more mobile integration directly into the Android core, brand pages mashed up with AdWords, and tighter integration of Hangouts and Google Docs. All of which I expect to see added before 2012.
I’m sure some readers will comment about Google’s checkered past in social networking, first with Orkut and more recently with the ill-fated Google Buzz. But to their credit, Google has rethought the social network from scratch with Google+ and have learned a great deal from their past failures in social networking. This is one of the things about the Google culture that is going in their favor here; the ability to start over and not build on past missteps.
Ultimately what Google is doing with Google+ is moving the social graph away from the closed Facebook platform and onto the mobile-social web where they can better organize and monetize their products and services. They have already created a compelling alternative to Facebook and have yet to bolt on their core advertising services. Once they do this, and several other smart things they are probably working on now, I think they just might give Facebook a run for their money.