To start, I’m not writing this out of a place of anger or dissension. I think Facebook has done more to bring the world together than virtually any single Web service in existence. This idea, cooked up by a group of Harvard students, has grown in immense proportions over the past several years to become arguably the biggest and most powerful company in technology. Yes, Google is huge, but Facebook has a firm grasp on information that Google is only beginning to scratch the surface of. Who we are, what we do, where we go, and what we plan to do in the future are all sitting on Facebook’s giant servers at this very moment. At the present moment, Facebook has a larger user base than the population of almost every country in the world. How could something as large as this ever fall to new competition?
I, for one, am a big fan of Google+. While my posts are presently somewhat infrequent and the network has yet to embrace third-party applications, the potential of Google’s new social network to create a more powerful and user-friendly experience is certainly there. Unlike Facebook, Google+ appears to be where the engagement is presently taking place in the social world. People are excited about it because it’s the new kid in town, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. Its integration with your already-existing Google account gives it a huge advantage over any other new social network, which would require users to create a new account and take an active step to seek them out to join. Google+ is a matter of a couple clicks of the mouse to start using.
Unfortunately, Facebook has countered Google+ with some serious updates of its own, including video chat integration via Skype and a new profile page that takes you through your life as one giant timeline.
The real problem facing social networks like Google+ is that Facebook is large. Convincing a population of over 800 million that has fully embraced Facebook to jump ship and join another social network is next to impossible. Unlike social networks before it, Facebook isn’t existing in an era where people are just getting started on social media. At this point, the majority of the people who will use social media are already using it. That means you will have a tougher time convincing someone to try Google+ because all of their friends are already on Facebook, and it’s good enough. At over 800 million members, Facebook has the most important commodity when it comes to competing in the world of social media. Facebook has the people who new users want to connect with. This means that, no matter how many annoying FarmVille messages you receive, how many spam requests you get, or how many groups your friends add you to without your permission, you’re stuck having to deal with Facebook until the people you care about most jump ship.
That isn’t to say that Facebook can’t lose its market share to another company. Social networks are like a house of cards. They rely on those core members to serve as a foundation to keep others interested in the service. If those core members jump ship, the whole network comes crashing down and people begin wondering what happened to it, like MySpace. In the world of tech and social networking, the general rule of thumb has been that once the tech communities embrace something, the rest of the world will eventually follow. This happened with Twitter, which was once dominated by tech personalities and pundits alike. Facebook became popular in a different way. It started off as an exclusive club open only to members of certain universities. In order to get in, you had to have a specific .edu email address. It was this exclusivity that appealed to the early audience, making it easier to share information with a closed community of people you knew.
Could Facebook eventually lose out to another social network? That remains to be seen, but it could be argued that anything coming at it needs to be absolutely unique and immediately appealing to that core market of influencers that can bring the crowds with them.
Unfortunately for everyone interested in Google+, or other new social networks, these core influencers are presently on Facebook. While Google+ may have more features and quite a bit of attention now that it has finally gone public, the question remains whether or not those core Facebook users who draw so many to the service are going to stay where they are.