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Is Google+ a bigger threat to Twitter than it is to Facebook?

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Since Google+ (s goog) 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

39 Responses to “Is Google+ a bigger threat to Twitter than it is to Facebook?”

  1. I think where most social networks fall short is the fact that employers troll these sites looking for a reason to fire some of their employees or a school looking to kick a kid out for saying something online disparaging about the institution. In order to have real free speech you need a site like could revolutionize how we look at social networks and free speech by bringing anonymity into the fold.

  2. I think it is an interesting point that the forced brevity of twitter makes it easier to follow lots of people.
    However, G+ could easily adapt a ‘headline/article’ format.
    Give the ‘headline’ area a couple hundred words maybe.
    Then, when following you would have the choice of following full or just headlines.
    The ‘headlines’ would have quick links to unfold the full post of course. Maybe also indicators if the post contains pics or other meta.
    So – essentially the ‘headline’ could be used unto itself like twitter or it could be used as an opening paragraph laying out the topic of the longer post.

    • kevrmoore

      Mike makes a great point. I have read in a few places that G+ must add a streaming view to really compete with Twitter. The headline functionality that Mike mentions is an excellent idea. Twitter also has other functionality that makes it unique….public lists, better attribution of sources on retweets, upcoming Iphone integration, worldwide ubiquity, and no 5,000 friend limit.

      After further review, I feel even more confident that G+ is more competitive with Facebook at this point. It is more of a social network, whereas Twitter is first and foremost a global, mobile, information network. And, while G+ is extremely innovative and well-done, Twitter has grown from what, 40 to 400 employees in the last 18 months or so. I think it is a mistake to think that major innovations from Twitter are not forthcoming. Better ways to find, search, and filter the mass amounts of data, for one.

      And, if G+ could add headline streaming, why couldn’t Twitter add a medium size post option above the 140 character limit that is integrated, and not a 3rd party punchout? G+ will likely just make Twitter better, faster, while Facebook is firmly in G+’s crosshairs, IMO.

  3. mortis

    the fantastic part of G+ is that it might force the competitors to up their game and innovate, as opposed to resting on their tech-laurels in perpetuity….and that’s good for everyone.

  4. Interesting slant Matthew. Only time will tell how users will adopt and use the new social network but the benefits you outlined such as the openness and real-time aspect definitely seem to be more competitive to Twitter. From the social media monitoring and analytics perspective, it’s exciting to watch another site grow and see even more social data created and available to brands, marketers, advertisers, agencies, etc to learn what people are saying online. This space never fails to fascinate me and the competition can only help in getting everyone to up their game! Let’s just hope consumers can keep up.

  5. Johane

    I’m not sure if it’ll be a Twitter killer. Unless Google+ can come up with a real time chat capability like the different twitter parties I see (eg: #foodrevparty) or live chats while watching a particular tv show (eg: #agt…)

  6. 1. Google+ will not kill anything. New websites rarely show up and “kill” other websites.

    2. The other major sites will stagnate because we only have so much time in the day, not because Google+ is better. It isn’t. It doesn’t do everything FB does, and it pretty much mimics what Twitter does.

    3. The business aspect is coming as are the ads. So it will start mimicing FB even more. Facebook has set the standard for social networks.

  7. Mathew,
    I think this post is spot on as far as the topic goes. But to saw that G+ is a bigger competitor to Twitter than facebook I think is a bit of a stretch.

    G+ is CLEARLY a Facebook competitor. Its a full out social network that has an indepth profile section, album section for pictures, and status updates that are indepth.

    If anything, I would say G+ has taken FB to a new level and improved on what they have done, by a lot. And there is no question that many of those improvements share similarities to twitter. But unless G+ becomes as ‘simple’ as twitter, which I dont see happening, I dont think they will be able to compete.

    Twitter does one thing and they do that one thing REALLY well. Google’s version of that is busier and therefore less attractive. Google has to add value to what twitter does to make it a true competition and unless Google can figure out a way to simplify what Twitter does (or at least mirror it, which would likely be a concern for twitter too), I can’t see G+ posing a serious threat to Twitter.

    • Thanks, Aaron — I agree it’s a competitor for Facebook too, and the simplicity of Twitter is definitely its biggest feature. But the thing that struck me about Mark Suster’s defence of Twitter was that all those points apply equally well to Google+. Thanks for the comment.

      • Aaron Friedman

        Hey Mathew,
        But that’s what I am trying to say, I don’t think they all those points do apply to G+.

        1. Google may be real time, or getting there, but it has already differentiated itself from twitter since the posts are SIGNIFICANTLY longer and not as simple to scroll through. This is the biggest and most significant distinction.

        2. The fact that Google + is open is one of those similarities that I was talking about. I have no contention with that and think that is where Google would pose a threat to Twitter, but that is just one point, albeit a significant one.

        3. And while I agree that G+ is great for starting conversation ‘socially’, potentially, I would argue that twitter is far more effective at that. You cant compare the simplicity of a RT / @ reply, to any form of communication on G+ or FB. Which again is a big difference.

        4. And similarly, the ability for G+ to take things viral, i’m sure they will be successful at that, but the rate at which sharing happens on G+ is going to have to compete with twitter, which I don’t think will happen (as I pointed out in my first point).

        There may be some areas where twitter should be concerned, but overall, I don’t think its significant enough of a threat.

        Facebook on the other hand should be scared :)

        Aaron Friedman

  8. With the traction that all the other G products have I expect a gradual migration if just for the convenience. Twitter will still be a beacon for breaking news though due to its simplicity. But likw with the other networks cross posting by tools like will ake it easier for the poster. Its the reader and follower who will be looking for the most convenient way and thus Google +.
    Thanks for your insight Matthew

  9. Ashish

    I think Google+ won’t kill anyone but will definitely stagnate the growth of Twitter and Facebook..the best part is that every Google feature is embedded in it and that makes it really indispensable :)

  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.

    • 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.

  11. Kevin Moore

    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+.

  12. Allister

    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.

  13. 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.

    • 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.

      • karthiq

        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+ .

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.