MySpace Co-Founder Tom Anderson, a welcome regular on the Google+ pundit circut since the social network launched June 28, has some advice for those Google or Facebook haters who love to talk about which company has copied who.
Long story short: Google+ apes Facebook in concept, but when it rolled out it became clear its Circles follower construct and Hangouts group Web conferencing features differentiated it from Facebook.
Facebook has taken flack since Google+ launched for adding Skype VOIP calling and, as of last week, Smart Lists and a Subscribe Button that provide more nuance and granularity to following users and sharing information.
Anderson, who as reinforcement uses Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs' famous application of Picasso's quote that "great artists steal" to describe his own business practices, argues it's not about who copies who or why that matters.
It's about the vision and the ensuing direction after the vision, Anderson explained on Google+ (of course):
"It's really about the subtle and delicate combination of both community (users) and UI (how the site works for them), and both emphasis (what does the site encourage users to do) & execution (does it do it well, so users know and conform to the patterns of behavior suggested by the site). When you look at the ideas for features on a social network, it's important to look beyond those ideas and see what they'll mean for humanity when those ideas are arranged in a very deliberate, delicate balance through perfect emphasis & execution. It's this that results in the growth or decline of a social network."
That sounds good except that social networks are young enough that we don't know all of the ins and outs.
Anderson speaks as a former leader of arguably the first popular, large-scale social network that failed as Facebook outmaneuvered it (just as MySpace outflanked Friendster), but that was then.
Speaking as an end user of both Facebook and Google+, I'm not sure all of these tools matter more than the network. Anderson himself concluded his post asking whether or not the "greatest "feature" of Google+ right now the users themselves?"
For example, my preference is to use Google+ because of Hangouts and because all of the photos I take with my Droid X smartphone get instantly uploaded to Picasa on Google+. It's like building a photo album, by just taking pictures and captioning them.
It's simply and elegant and Facebook doesn't have it this good. However, Facebook is where most of the people (750 million and counting!), including my friends and family, are. It got cool fast by being exclusive and dropkicked MySpace to the mat when it opened to all users.
With all apologizes to Richard MacManus' fine piece on how Google+ can "outbox" Facebook, unless Google+ provides something truly ground-breaking and earth-shaking Facebook can be on auto-pilot with its alleged copycat features.
Google hasn't yet provided the drop-kick or knock-out punch, if you'll excuse the fighting metaphors. Here's why.
Most of the non-techie consumers, including my wife, have been flat-out pigheaded about trying Google+, let alone switching to it.
Understand that here in suburban Connecticut I live as far outside the Silicon Valley exhaust pipe of technology jihads and polemics of Flash vs. HTML5 and Google+ vs. Facebook debates. People here simply don't know what Google+ is.
When I told myy 7th-grade daughter about Google+, shepromptly asked me for a Facebook account. I'm like, uh yeah, whatever!
So, Anderson's has valid points that vision and execution matter, but you can't make people join.
Unless Google can incent users to move to or just try Google+, it's members will live in the perpetual vacuum. Growth, as Loic Le Meur noted today, may become painful.*
I'm still using Google+ and plan to unless I have a reason not to. But I also need to keep my Facebook account active. That's just where the majority of my people are.
For most users, the network, not the vision or the execution, is the bottom line. Facebook has it now, and Google is working hard to own some of that addressable market.
*Speaking of growth, Google+ just graduated from limited field test to beta, adding search and new Hangouts tools.
Think it will spend 5 years there the way Gmail did? Not when it keeps improving at light speed. The incremental innovation is worthy of a novella in itself.