Google “Versus” Facebook? Or Just Google “And” Facebook?

This past month has brought many “Best of 2010” lists and almost as many “Predictions for 2011.”

Last month also brought word—and a pirated screenshot—of Google’s direct entry into social media, now called “Google +1,” which is supposed to be Google’s response to Facebook’s incredible growing hegemony in social media.

(Credit: Neowin.com)

Google +1 has two components.  The first is a toolbar at the top of the browser that enables social sharing.  This has the critical advantage over Facebook of not forcing people to go to their Facebook webpage to post a link, picture or thought, and presumably also share in other social ways—like an IM discussion with someone.

This hits Facebook at its greatest weakness—it’s a “closed garden,” an online community that you cannot communicate into or out of, only inside of.  And Facebook controls all the elements of the experience, just as Apple does within the iPad or iPhone world.  So think of Google +1 as to Facebook as the Google Android phone operating system is to the iPhone.

The second component is called “Loops,” and again this is a better mousetrap than Facebook’s sharing via Walls and Comments.

One major problem with both Facebook and Twitter is that everything I post goes out to everyone.  And frankly I’ve got some folks on Facebook—from the early days—who I “friended” just because there weren’t a lot of people to “friend” in 2006.  And now I’m not particularly keen on sharing pictures of my kids with Josef Hindgrabber, that software developer in Brooklyn I met at a Christmas party a few years ago.

Facebook for me has become the place where I connect with family and close friends (not including Josef Hindgrabber) and Twitter is for business.  But what if I could create discrete groups—personalized social graphs—so that I could send some messages to friends and family and some to business acquaintances?

Google “Loops” are intended to be that kind of personalized organization of your connections into groups that you want.   It’s a great idea, especially for people like me who spend an inordinate amount of time online and have large numbers of connections in places like Twitter, Facebook, Ning, and so on.

Google has always wanted to own the “universal sign-on,” a single identity that would be understood and accepted as a valid log-on everywhere on the Internet.  So if Google can get some traction on Google +1,  that will build traction that will improve acceptance of your Google ID as a universal sign-on.   Perhaps these two movements could build on each other.

(Credit: Neowin.com)

Since this is the first workday of 2011, here’s my guess about how all this will play out in 2011.

Facebook will continue to improve by deploying cool new widgets and other UX improvements, while focusing on Facebook advertising as a way to build real revenue to back up their astronomical market capitalization, currently running at about $60 billion US.  Facebook needs revenue to back up a 2012 IPO.

Google will roll out Google +1 and depending on how difficult or easy it is to migrate social connections and then social behavior to this new Google world, Google +1 will begin to get traction.  It will be used first by the geekdom like me and if we get excited about it, it will become the new new platform for social interaction among us Netheads.  But Facebook will remain the province of the rest of the world.

Facebook has two very powerful constituencies who will be almost impossible for Google to move.  The first is kids under 18 who are grabbing up smart phones and increasingly using Facebook as their virtual real-time yearbook and personal classified.  Facebook is currently a low-cost, low-threat way for kids to connect, flirt and otherwise co-mingle.  They love their Facebook pages as personal expressions.  There’s nothing quite like that in Google +1.

The second group that Facebook owns and probably will for some time is people 50+ years of age.  They’re digging Facebook because of the family connections.  Already my kids and relatives have in the last week posted dozens of holiday pictures on their Facebook pages.  And we’re all commenting on them.  And we’re also saying hello and happy new year to old friends we’ve connected with.

The family, especially Boomers and older, will be impossible to dislodge.

So Google +1 might become what the new mashup of social media, search and IM, with self-defined business groups, personal friend groups, city and regional groups (does anyone outside the Twin Cities really care what I think about the Vikings?) and others.

Google +1 might be for the people like me who want to connect constantly, and Facebook will work just fine for the rest of the world.

I do believe on New Year’s Day 2012 we can expect both Google and Facebook to be worth a lot more than they are right now.  Social media will see to that.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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