June 28, 2011 at 7:09 PM ET
So many people are on Facebook. How are they going to get them to switch? It’s going to have to be pretty great.
That was the immediate reaction from certain Facebook-addicted members of my family today as we read the blog post and watched the videos announcing Google+, the search giant’s (latest) big move into social networking.
The Google+ features themselves look interesting, offering a fresh take on social networking, at least. Circles is a way to group friends and family members into specific categories for easy sharing. Sparks is an “online sharing engine” that delivers content on specific topics for sharing with particular groups of friends. And “Hangouts” will attempt to bring a level of spontaneity to multi-person video-conferencing.
(For more details on Google+, click here.)
But the most important feature of any social network is the users themselves. And with more than 600 million of them, Facebook has a gigantic — and perhaps insurmountable — head start on that front.
Of course, Google has plenty of users itself, with 65 percent of the search market in the U.S., and an even larger percentage in some countries overseas.
But keep in mind the news last week that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has launched an antitrust investigation into the search giant, reportedly focusing on whether Google has unfairly used its dominance in the Internet search business to favor its own products over those from its rivals.
It's not illegal for a company to hold a dominant position in a market. It is illegal for a company to use that dominant position to give itself an unfair advantage in other markets.
That's probably going too far at this point. Google+ is just starting its public rollout as an invitation-only field trial, and the videos and preview released by the company provide just a glimpse of what the ultimate experience will be like long term. But no doubt the FTC will be watching closely to see how Google integrates elements of Google+ into its core search experience, and connects its search users to Google+.
Along those lines, it's significant that Google is calling this a "project," rather than a product. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan explains that the idea is to make "Google itself more social rather than being a standalone social network to take on Facebook."
That sounds familiar, doesn't it? Is Internet Explorer a web browser or a feature of Windows?
Then again, Facebook is no Netscape.
And Facebook is not relinquishing its giant customer base easily. As explained by Wired's Steven Levy at the end of his mammoth piece on the Google+ project, Facebook has so far declined to create a mechanism to allow users to export their Facebook connections to Google+. One Google executive told Levy that Facebook is open to it but also "scared that we’re trying to kill them."
That may be going too far, as well. In the end, my family's initial reaction will probably hold true: To win our time and attention away from Facebook, this Google+ thing is going to have to be pretty great.
And all our friends are going to have to think so, too.
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