How Google+ Can Make a Dent in Facebook's User Engagement

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-10-12

At a time when the majority of blog posts concerning Google+ either have the social network credibly challenging Facebook or dying on the vine, GigaOm's Matt Ingram offers a refreshingly balanced summary of what people may or may not be getting out of Google+ to keep them there.

His conclusion is that he's not sure whether or not Google+ has staying power. I think Google+ has staying power because enough people are actively using it for now.

Where I'm less sure is whether or not Google+ has the power to challenge, let alone threaten Facebook's massive influence on the Web.

As I've noted several times, Google+ has the basics down pat, and is constantly improving and adding functionality to put it on par with Facebook and Twitter. But Hangouts are not a game-changer. Sorry, Hangouts fans!

Ingram cites Robert Scoble's Google+ post on where Google+ is better than Facebook and Twitter. He likes the ability to have full, uninterrupted conversations, the photo and video layouts, and the ability to search.

But those aren't game changers. What would game changers be? I return to the notion of separating signal from noise, which I addressed last Friday using John Battelle's position on the paradigm.

That is, the Web is so expansive that it's tough to separate the valuable content from the chaff. What does that mean for Google? I noted:

I strongly believe--and I keep going back to this well--that the answer lies in serendipitous or autonomous searches, whereby information users want to seek them out rather than making them type content in a search box, whether it's on, Google+ or Facebook.

In short, imagine Google+ in the future as not just a place where people go to share information, but a place where Google's vast well of Web services help suggest content to users based on their previous searches or Gmail activity.

Facebook is already doing a little bit of this content suggestion via social plug-ins that surface content users have signaled they liked, either by clicking a Like button or by subscribing to brand pages.

Moreover, the new social apps include shared stories, so when users play a game, listen to a song or read an article, that action is shared with other users. But these are signals from actions users have just taken. They represent the here and now and provide a springboard for, maybe, users to influence others to sample music, videos or articles.

Here's the thing. Google has several years' worth of info people have generated via search, Gmail, Google Apps, YouTube and other Web services. Google has the advantage over Facebook of having more data. And now it is building Google+ as the social graph backbone to help target users.

Now it needs to find a way to leverage that data based on the signals have used based on past searches from all of its Web services. This would be autonomous search provided by Google for its 1 billion-plus searchers.

Of course, these services would need to be opt-in because it involves Google leveraging a certain amount of user data.

For a contemporary example, suppose you were doing Google Product Searches for snowblowers. Google would alert users to sales of snowblowers. The notification would go right to your Google+ account via desktop and Android handset or iPhone.

Or imagine you were searching for restaurants from your mobile phone. The next time you come within a certain vicinity, your phone alerts you to Google Offers involving cuisine you've signaled interest in.

Or maybe you like watching U2 videos on YouTube (as I do). Maybe Google lets you know a new U2 boxed set is available for streaming, which a user can purchase and store in Google Music.

Google's presence on the Web has made the possibilities virtually limitless (assuming the privacy model remains true). The question remains whether Google will leverage the info at its disposal for commerce and other tasks.

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