With Google+ gaining attention as a potential Facebook competitor, the main question on the mind of every Facebook user is "Are Google+ and Facebook even that different?"
Well, yes. And no.
Let's take a look at the similarities and differences between Google+ and Facebook, and in the process maybe you'll be able to decide if Google+ is worth the switch.
At its most basic level, Google+ doesn't really offer anything different than Facebook. It lets you share updates, personal information, pictures and video with friends, acquaintances or even the public, as well as comment on the content posted by others. Even though some of the terminology is different, the features are all basically the same. For instance, the Google+ Stream is synonymous with the Facebook Wall. Instead of hitting the "like" button in Google+, users show approval with a "+1" button.
There are other similarities, including video chat (called Hangouts in Google+), group chat (called a Huddle in Google+), and location services.
In that sense, Google+ is on par with Facebook, and the average user will be able to do what they want with either social media site. However, that's not to say that these two social networks are identical; both have some significant strengths.
Google has taken a nascent concept in Facebook, and built it into Google+ from the ground up. The result is Google+ Circles, a feature that makes sharing with select friends much easier. Circles allow users to categorize friends and contacts into different groups and then share updates and content with specific people. When posting items, the user simply specifies which Circles to share with or marks the post as public so anyone can see it. It seems like a small thing, but it makes sharing so much more customizable, and it really is useful.
Google+ also has excellent integration with other Google properties, including Picasa, YouTube, Calendar, Docs and Gmail. The Sparks feature not only shows others what your interests are, but it pulls in news and relevant sites that relate to those interests.
It's also easier to follow other people even if they aren't friends. Google+ allows you to add people to your Circles even if you aren't in theirs. Any time that person posts something publicly, it will show up in your Stream, but in Facebook you can't do much unless you are confirmed friends. This makes it easy to follow celebrities or experts in Google+.
The biggest advantages that Facebook has can be summed up in two words: users and games. Facebook is the undisputed king of the social network space, with over 750 million users. Even though Google+ already has tens of millions of users — despite being in invitation-only beta — Facebook is much more likely to have accounts for just about everyone you know. Google+ will continue to grow, but it will be a long time, if ever, before Google+ can even approach that kind of user base.
Facebook has also become much more than a social network. Surprisingly, it has become a gaming hub. FarmVille was just the beginning; now there are all sorts of games, and large portions of Facebook users play them regularly. Google+ doesn't have anything like that yet. Facebook also has many apps that perform other functions. There are some useful extensions for Google+ but they don't have near the quantity or quality that can be found on Facebook.
Finally, Facebook still has distinct advantages for organizations and businesses. Google has said that it will eventually create an option for businesses and special interest pages, but for now Google+ doesn't accommodate them. In an era where it's common to have a Facebook page before a solid business plan, that makes Google+ a less attractive option.
The coming battle
Even though there are some differences, expect the feature gap to close between these two services, making them even more similar. While Google+ may not be different enough to steal away the average Facebook user, this is still Facebook's game to lose. Many people are trying Google+ out of curiosity and might like what they see, especially when Google+ sloughs off its invite-only status. And it's also possible that people will start to use both for a while, similar to those who curated both MySpace and Facebook accounts for a few years until Facebook became the dominant service.
The biggest deciding factor for most users will be where their friends are. For now, Facebook is winning that battle without trying, but some people are already finding most of their friends on Google+ and inviting those who aren't, so the social network landscape could be changing soon.