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

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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

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