Can Google+ Beat Facebook?

Can Google+ beat Facebook? That’s the question I’ve been asked again and again as early adopters are beginning to understand what Google+ has to offer its users. A full analysis of its potential won’t be possible for some time, as features are just not beginning to really take form and bugs are being worked out. In order to “beat” Facebook, Google+ would have to have a larger user base using it as their primary social network. That’s a tall order, considering Facebook’s 750 million users. The fact is, Google+ has the potential of “beating” Facebook, if they concentrate on a few key points moving forward.

First, Circles is an incredible feature that allows you to create groups of contacts in order to allow you to decide who in your social graph receives specific updates. This can come in handy when you’re sending out information to your close friends you wouldn’t necessarily want your parents to know, and so on and so forth. Where it may concern some users, LockerGnome’s own Kelly Clay included, is in the clique atmosphere it can foster. Even if you are sharing information with someone, that doesn’t mean they have to share it back to you. In fact, you could be missing information shared with a special few and not even know it. This kind of interaction isn’t preferred by some social network users, and it all comes down to personal preference. When it comes down to it, Circles is the most defining feature of Google+. This system determines who sees what. When they open their doors and the network begins to fill up with non-geeks, we’ll have a much better idea as to whether or not the perceived clique atmosphere will drive traffic away, or be met with a shrug.

Sparks is, at the present moment, not entirely useful. The information it provides is somewhat accurate, but that doesn’t stop completely unrelated information from propagating on a regular basis. The difference between it and the iGoogle home page is that you don’t have the inherent ability to select individual sources to pull from. With some work, it could become slightly more usable. It may be the perfect solution for casual Internet users that don’t have a lot of time to check various sources for the daily scoop on something they’re interested in. This isn’t a killer feature, and it probably won’t have much impact on users switching over from Facebook. If anything, this is an extra that is worth keeping an eye on for the future.

The Google+ photo management scheme is right on target. By integrating Picasa, Google has found the ideal compliment to the network without having to build a photo management system from scratch. The interface could use a bit more polish, but I think at this stage in beta they’re heading in the right direction. Facebook has a solid and recognized photo management system in place itself. Picasa is a system that I’ve recommended in the past and enjoy using myself. It’s cross-platform and in many ways it surpasses iPhoto. Integrating it in to Google+ was a good move on their part. Is this the feature that draws users away from Facebook and over to Google+? That depends largely on how important their photo collection is to those users.

Hangouts is the real innovation behind the network. Google has managed to take something that has been, until now, mostly 1 on 1 and opened it up to groups in a very socially forward manor. I can create a hangout and anyone in the public (or a defined circle) can join in with a single click in their activity stream. This is a great way to meet new people on a level that comment threads just doesn’t compare to. Hangouts have given me a new way to connect with the community and get their take on various topics. If there is one feature that brings Google+ in to the running against Facebook and other social networks, it’s probably Hangouts. Facebook’s Voice Calling is a wonderful feature, but until it becomes a socially open group activity, the edge has to go to Google+.

To say that Google+ will have a lot of catching up to do is an understatement, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s being supported by what amounts to the most powerful driving force of traffic on the web. For many users, Google is the Internet. Google+ is being built in to the Google experience for its users. It’s still in beta, and while early adopters are clamoring at the gates for invitations, the real test is in how the general public accepts the network. Will it have enough going for it to become the new primary social network for a significant number of Facebook’s users?

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.