Google Plus: Why Facebook and Quora Should Worry

Google launched Google+ this week, and there have been many excellent posts highlighting its potential as well as its challenges. My first impressions are very positive. I will not regurgitate any of the points already made by others, and will limit this post to what I think has been missed.

Relevance: “The Mother Of All Streams”

Most of the commentary about Google Plus so far has focused on its social feature – “Circles”, a new way of grouping contacts for targeted sharing. But as I’ve said before, the future belongs to the Interest Graph complementing the Social Graph.Google-plus-logo-640

Facebook has done a not-so-great job capturing users’ interests. Many people have ‘Liked’ hundreds of pages just because they were asked to do so by their friends. Facebook’s obsession with and overreliance on the social graph has corrupted their interest graph, and this might well be Facebook’s Achilles Heel in the long term.

Google Plus takes a different approach. The goal of Sparks is to capture your true interests. It is in a primitive state at present, but I’m talking about the Big Picture here! As Andrew Tomkins explains:

“Sparks is essentially the stuff that flows to you through the interest graph and the stream is the stuff that flows to you through the social graph”

This is precisely what I described was the secret sauce behind Quora:

Quora’s newsfeed is an interesting showcase of what happens when you mix an Interest Graph with a Social Graph – and the result is the mysterious addictiveness so many have experienced, but found difficult to explain.

Steven Levy goes on to explain how the Google Plus team plans to mix these two to create the “mother of all streams”.

Also: Once Google gets to know you better, it can help provide more relevant search results. Classic search disambiguation problem – when user searches for ‘apple’ is it for the fruit or the company? Your interests from Sparks can help Google learn what you’re looking for.

Why Quora Should Be Worried

It was reported earlier today that code for Questions has been found in Google Plus. If this comes as a surprise, you haven’t understood Google’s ambitions with Emerald Sea.

Unlike Quora, where users/moderators need to manually tag Questions to fit their taxonomy, Google could easily auto-tag questions. Further, it could easily AutoComplete your Question in a way Quora could only hope. And even further, in many situations, Google could answer your question without waiting for a human being to respond.

Imagine such a Q&A service working across mobile devices, where Google knows your location and much more about your interests and friends.

Why Facebook Should Be Worried

AllFacebook has a great post on how Google Plus is a challenge for Facebook. Some folks have already opined that Facebook has nothing to fear, that the mainstream users are not going to join Google Plus and quit Facebook in droves. But pundits have been wrong before.

I wouldn’t dismiss Google Plus so quickly if I were Facebook. Challenges for Google Plus:

  • Critical Mass: Google Plus needs a critical mass of users if its ever to gain mainstream acceptance. However, these are very early days, and early adopter response has been largely positive.
  • Games: Mainstream users love games. Google is reported to have invested in Zynga, while Facebook has had a rocky relationship with them. What if the next Farmville were to launch exclusively on Google Plus and not on Facebook?
  • Simplicity: As it stands today, Google Plus is not actually more complicated than Facebook, it just feels like it because it is new. Try introducing Facebook to a first time user and walk through the different features, and you’ll agree that Facebook has slowly evolved to a much more complex service with a plethora of components. Google Plus will need to become simple and intuitive to attract a sizeable mass of followers before adding new features.

There are a lot of unknowns, and my take is that it’s too early to make predictions. In any case, the stickiness factor of Google Plus is a big challenge for Facebook.

I am very impressed with what I’ve seen so far. There are challenges, but for once, I think the Emerald Sea team is seeing things in the right perspective and making all the right moves. In Feb 2010, I explained Why Google Buzz Doesn’t KISS. So far, Google Plus does.

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  • http://twitter.com/aparanjape Amit Paranjape

    Good post. What about the Skype angle? Should Skype worry as well?

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thanks! Oh yes. I think Om covered that pretty well already: http://gigaom.com/2011/06/28/why-google-plus-wont-hurt-facebook-but-skype-will-hate-it/

  • Nikhil Ambekar

    What about twitter?

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    There have been some opinions that Twitter is under threat (see http://venturebeat.com/2011/06/30/google-could-make-twitter-the-next-myspace/ for example) but I believe Twitter’s 140 char limit places it in a unique space. If Twitter could grow despite Facebook, it can very well continue to grow beside Google Plus.

  • http://blog.dhananjaynene.com Dhananjay Nene

    I suspect what many miss when discussing interest graphs and facebook, is for a majority of the users of facebook, “*** people are the interest ***”. X does not follow Y because he writes about Z. X follows Y because he is interested in Y.

    Sure there is a likely large non-majority who uses facebook in the unconventional way – building lots of followers, generating lots of likes, following lots of people who specifically talk more about a small class of issues. And sure, for that particular class, google+ is better suited.

    But that class is still a minority (imo). And facebook would be ill advised to respond in any way to service that minority which would make it harder or less convenient for the majority. That would actually only result in more power to Google+

    You mentioned Quora in addition to Facebook. I think the implication on Foursquare and Yammer is also likely to be interesting.

  • Navin Kabra

    Mahendra, 
    Your reasons for why Quora should be worried significantly undervalue the worth of what Quora has built so far. Auto-tagging, auto-complete, suggested auto-answers from the web are not going to kill Quora. Sure, if Quora had those features, it would be easier to use – but the real core of Quora is the quality. High quality stuff gets voted up, low quality stuff gets buried. People who are there to casually throw one liners or troll get discouraged and leave. People who like to spend time to craft a well reasoned, well researched answer are cherished. 

    I don’t see Google+ being able to recreate that easily while still keeping the casual “status updates” and “quick-share” features.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    True and I agree to a large extent. These millions of Facebook users are using news reading apps like Flipboard, Zite, etc. to get relevant news while they’re not using Facebook. Google Plus can do that as well.

    And a large proportion of Facebook users isn’t there only for friends, but just to play games and have fun.

    Re FourSquare, that has also been covered, see http://aboutfoursquare.com/did-google-just-sneak-a-foursquare-competitor-under-our-noses/

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    It all depends on how they build Q&A into the product, its early to say. As for Quora, I’m not undermining what it has achieved (I’ve evangelized Quora more than most folks). But this does put limits on Quora’s mainstream ambitions. It may well remain a select community of passionate users, but limited in adoption.

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  • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

    Mahendra, great analysis (as usual). Don’t forget Android, Google’s secret weapon in this entire quest for user information. I wrote about how Google can (and will) use Android to develop a better and richer social/interest graph than Facebook. Facebook may have access to the online behavior of users and even that, as you say, may not be very representative. 

    Google+ has been extremely well received and I hope Google can carry on this momentum.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thanks, Alok. Not forgetting Android – that aspect too has been well covered in several other posts. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/72suited Jim Lynch

    “What if the next Farmville were to launch exclusively on Google Plus and not on Facebook?”

    And that would be a good thing for google+? I hope crap like that stays out of google+. Games are cool I guess, I just hate being flooded with requests to plant crap and feed pets…

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Oh yeah, they can screw up big time if they bring in games notifications into the main feed like FB. Don’t think they’ll do that though.

  • Navin Kabra

    I hope Quora manages to capture “small communities of passionate users” from many different fields – then it will really shine, and become a repository of awesome knowledge/opinions. I see it as similar to wikipedia – very small number of writers/editors, but large numbers of readers. 

  • http://twitter.com/72suited Jim Lynch

    Agreed. I think they’ve learned from others mistakes. :)

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  • http://careless.fr hyyvon

    great post.

    I completely agree on your views about the interest graph. I think that circles and sparks can adress this issue better than facebook did with likes.

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  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    The big test for any new service is will sufficient active users be around in 3 months. I may even reactive a Facebook account, as G+ reminds me that mother of all central social destinations aren’t bad in of themselves. The problems are related to social network mobility and Google+ could win or lose trust based on how it enables contact exporting.

    In this case will Google stay focused on it to push through a dip?

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Google+ already supports contacts and circles export. And I think its amply clear that Google is going to remain focused on this for a very long time, dip or no dip. Read Levy’s Wired article I’ve linked to and quoted in my post.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    I read and enjoyed the article when you first linked to it. Still don’t know how dedicated Google is to this particular service, I can’t seeing them back a social tool that doesn’t resonate with enough users.

    Glad to see mobility of contacts is built in. Now to test that theory by importing my Google contacts into Facebook…

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  • http://webtechtuts.com Webtechtuts

    what will be the next launch from google plus? do you really think that google plus will take over social market of facebook.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    I can’t predict what G+ will launch, but can certainly say that they will not ‘take over’ audience from Facebook. I believe there is plenty of audience for more than 1 social network.

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