A lot of the attention on Google+ has focused on whether it’s a “Facebook killer,” but it’s actually more likely to become a competitor for Twitter than Facebook. Is the Google network just benefitting from “shiny new object” syndrome, or could it pose a real threat?

Since Google+ came out, there’s been a lot of focus on whether it’s a “Facebook-killer,” in part because it has a lot of similar features such as photo-sharing and status updates, but also because Google+ “Circles” seem like such a big improvement on what Facebook offers. But there’s just as much — if not more — reason to see Google’s offering as a Twitter competitor, and some users are already talking about how they are using Twitter less and Google+ more. Is the Google network just benefitting from “shiny new object” syndrome, or is it a real threat?

A couple of high-profile tech-industry types have already announced they are shifting their allegiance to Google+ and away from other social networks, including Twitter. For example, Steve Rubel — the digital evangelist who got some attention not that long ago for nuking his blogs and moving everything to Tumblr — said that while he isn’t quitting Twitter altogether, he plans to de-emphasize the network in favor of spending more time on Google+. And Digg founder and angel investor Kevin Rose said he has redirected his blog to the Google social network because there’s better conversation there (Mike Elgan at Computerworld says Google+ has the potential to replace Facebook, Twitter, blogs and email).

They aren’t the only ones to suggest Google+ is going to take time away from other networks. And the idea that it might do this isn’t that surprising: The social-networking field was already fairly crowded even before Google decided to enter the game, so any gains it makes will naturally have to come from one of its competitors — especially since the service doesn’t make it easy to connect Google+ to any other network such as Twitter or Facebook (although plug-ins have emerged that are trying to get around these limitations). But which is going to suffer most, Twitter or Facebook?

Doubling down on the Twitter ecosystem?

Mark Suster, a venture investor with GRP Partners, has written a long post about how he’s “doubling down” on the Twitter ecosystem by leading a $6-million round of financing for Twitter-analytics engine DataSift. While he doesn’t talk a lot about Google+, his list of the reasons why Twitter is worth investing in for the long haul are arguably also applicable to Google+. Among other things, he says that Twitter will dominate because:

  • It’s real-time. Suster says real-time information “drives commerce,” including marketing spending, and that “while Twitter is not the only source of real-time data today it is the largest and most important.”
  • It’s open. Unlike Facebook, which keeps its information behind a wall, Twitter is “in the driver’s seat for valuable data that can be openly interpreted and acted upon,” says Suster.
  • It’s asymmetric. While Facebook has a symmetric friend/follower system, in which you have to agree to be friends with someone, Twitter allows anyone to follow you (unless you explicitly prevent it). This creates a powerful “interest graph,” Suster says.
  • It’s social. People use Twitter to have conversations with their peers and friends, says Suster, and this is another potential source of business intelligence.
  • It’s viral. Because of the ability to retweet or share links and comments, Twitter is “the place where the public conversation is happening. It is the town hall. It is Speakers’ Corner,” Suster says.

He goes on to talk about how Twitter is an excellent way of determining both explicit and implicit social signals because of the way people follow and share links, and that this can provide crucial business intelligence via tools such as DataSift (which has a partnership with Twitter to use the real-time firehose).

Suster is right about all these benefits to the Twitter network. But virtually all of them also apply to Google+ as well. For example, the content and conversations and link-sharing that take place in the network are all real-time — and while Google doesn’t have as large a database of activity as Twitter does, it arguably won’t take long for it to catch up. Google+ is also open (although it doesn’t integrate well with Twitter or Facebook, as discussed, which is a potential Achilles heel), and it offers an asymmetric follower model just like Twitter.

The Google network also has the potential to be just as social and just as viral — and just as good at delivering implicit and explicit social signals via resharing and the +1 button. We’ve written about how good Google+ is for sharing certain content, and others have also talked about how much traffic the network is sending, even though it has only been open for a few weeks. Some of that could be just the influence of the early adopters who have taken to the Google service, but it could also accelerate as it becomes more widely available (which the company says it will later this month).

And while Suster — and fellow investor Roger Ehrenberg of IA Ventures — likes the appeal of DataSift and its analytics based on the Twitter platform, if anyone knows how to do large-scale analytics of real-time information networks, it’s Google. Now it has its own real-time network to draw on (which is likely part of the reason Twitter shut down the company’s access to its firehose for Google’s real-time search service).

So is Google+ a Twitter killer? Hardly. But it’s likely to become a strong competitor, for all the reasons described above, and possibly even more of a competitor for Twitter than it is for Facebook.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Gabrie Coletti

  1. YEs this is what i have been thinking since the day i m using g+….the circle feature resembles the twitter feature in which we get real time updates about the people we are following..

  2. I actually think it is a bigger threat to Tumblr and Posterous than it is to Facebook or Twitter.

    My threat order:
    1) Tumblr
    2) Posterous
    3) Facebook
    4) Twitter

    1. Thanks, Dain — you are probably right about Tumblr, and certainly Posterous. That’s the argument Mike Elgan makes in his post as well, and why some people like Kevin Rose are going to switch to Google+. I was mostly concentrating on Twitter because I think the overlap is almost 100 percent.

  3. I joked yesterday (on Twitter) that Google+ should have come with a 26 hrs day, instead of 24. The battle I think is one for our time. There are so many hours in the day you could be spreading across typically 4 public networks (LI, FB, G+ and Twitter) & perhaps a 5th one if you work for a large Co.

    Google+ needs to have more integration points with Twitter. Right now, we have to re-post content separately on both networks, as if there was a wall between them. Users won’t like that.

    To answer your question, it might be early to tell, but out of the gate (and perhaps due to the learning curve and shiny object syndrome), G+ is taking time from Twitter usage. Whether it stays that way remains to be seen. I’m not particularly fond of thumbing through a noisy thread of 200 comments on G+. Flashbacks of Friendfeed are too frightening.

    1. Yes, I agree that Google+ is getting noisy, and the long strings of comments are becoming unwieldy. The service is going to have to find some way around that, and default collapsing of comments is one obvious solution. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Mathew – Google Plus and Twitter are similar in the ways you listed above. However, Google Plus and Facebook are similar in *what* you’ll do on the service (share photos, videos and updates with partial and full privacy controls). Twitter is more of a broadcast medium and Facebook is more for family and close friends. At least in my world.

    That’s why I never had a problem maintaining a Twitter and a FB presence and being active on both – they served different uses for me. Plus seems to combine the two services and throw in some Tumblr-like features. I think it’s going to take traffic from everything. I think this is not aimed at Twitter or Facebook – it’s aimed at both. Assuming it goes mainstream, I can see people deciding to only use Plus. That’s a relatively big assumption though.

  5. In the end there will be only one Social Network standing. And that would be G+. There are only 24 hrs in a day. And its very difficult to catch up on everything on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr etc etc. All of these Social Networks will be like one circle (each) in G+. This will be one place where you go to get your feeds…depending on your circle.

    1. That’s clearly Google’s hope, Sandeep. Thanks for the comment.

    2. I am not sure I agree that in the end there will only be one.

      Someone else in this thread pointed out that there are different, not necessarily related, activities for which people use the tools/toys.

      For me, I want separate services. Twitter is one thing – broadcast to the world. LinkedIn is a business networking site, with related services used for professional purposes. Facebook is only for friends and family.

      The difficulty is in understanding and managing privacy (visibility.) Although I don’t assume that anything I post anywhere is private I use the separate services at least in part to make up for not having a consistent, stable, easy to understand and easy to control way to control access to my content and contacts.

      The key for users is being comfortable with using multiple services. The opportunity is to make using multiple services easier. We are beginning to see tools and services that help.

      1. No matter how many tools are there to help, using multiple services will always be more inconveniant if a single service which offers all these individual services on a single paltform is AVAILABLE. G+ IF IT PLAYS ITS CARDS right could be that.

        Having said that i would like to add that linked will continue to coexist as it offers a much more differnt form of people netwroking than others. But tumblr,posterous,twitter,facebook experiences can be replicated on G+ .

  6. Here’s a key difference with Twitter which turns out to be very important for me. On Twitter, I follow Cali Lewis, Amber MacArthur, Jeff MacArthur, Leo Laporte, Veronica Belmont and others of the same ilk. They tweet lots of stuff that doesn’t interest me and some that does.

    I have started following some of these people on G+ and I now have a problem. On Twitter it takes me only moments to scan the tweet to see if it interests me and skip over it if not. On G+ there is a LOT of scrolling and many words to read. For that reason I will stop following them.

    If I’m going to see a lot of text, it needs to have a high readability ratio for me. G+ doesn’t allow for that.

    1. That’s a great point, Allister — I have noticed the same thing. Google+ is much noisier in that sense, and harder to filter. Thanks for the comment.

  7. I think Google+ has more of a chance at being a personal blog killer vs. killing Facebook or Twitter.

    1. Care to elaborate?

    2. Care to elaborate?

    3. Care to elaborate?

    4. Are you using Google+?

    5. Is water wet? ;-)

    6. Is water wet? ;-)

    7. I am detecting a bit of sarcasm. The look and feel of it gives you the sense it is blog-like. Easy to use and share, long/short message form, and visual appeal. I think Twitter is great because of the short form nature and ability to follow things in real time based on topic/idea/concept. Hashtags are great. I believe Google can accomplish this as well in a quick period of time. The downside is so many people are on FB and Twitter right now, I am hearing people feel as though they need a reason to switch.

      1. Thanks, Michael — I think there’s a bit of an echo in here :-) But I would agree.

  8. I think Google+ has more of a chance at being a personal blog killer vs. killing Facebook or Twitter.

  9. Kevin Moore Monday, July 11, 2011

    Twitter is tailor-made for mobile. G+ will have a mobile app someday, but it is not well-designed for mobile. Twitter’s world of mobile micro-blogging is quite safe, IMO. I see Facebok and Tumblr being more in the crosshairs of G+.

  10. I agree with Michael… personal blogs may suffer but I think content creators will give up twitter before facebook because of the relationship aspect. I think that Facebook with a 1-1 relationship ratio makes it harder to walk away from. This is still too early to call…but we will all be watching closely.

    1. Well, I’m not on Twitter. I was, and I hated it — too much stuff I had no interest in. So I got off it. G+ right now looks like for me it will be a place for more substantive conversations and work (already thinking about organizing a Hangout-based poetry workshop) and less open forum chatter. So for me, it’s about an opportunity to be more exclusive in what I share with specific people. And in that sense, it will likely take away from FB time significantly over time.

    2. That is interesting… I have some ideas about doing somethings with Capicu Poetry & Cultural Showcase… Papo and I were testing out some ideas… stay tuned and prepare to be amazed.


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