Does Google+ Rapture Indicate “Pent-Up Demand” For Facebook Alternative?

The early reviews of Google+ (including mine) have been almost uniformly positive — if not glowing. It is a good product, if not entirely original, with some standout features: Hangout, Circles.

In the week and a half since launch many people have enthusiastically embraced it, while others are busy trying to handicap it vs. Facebook and other social sites.

Does Google+ Justify All the Praise It Has Received?

But does Google+ and its Android app (which is good but not the “second coming”) merit the adulation they’ve been getting? I’m not sure; I think there’s something else going on here.

I’ve been somewhat surprised by the almost rapturous enthusiasm among many of the early adopters. There would seem to be more at play than a pure reaction to Google+ features. I sense a strong desire — call it pent up demand –  for a genuine Facebook alternative and/or a meaningful competitive challenge to Facebook.

Google in Role of Social Underdog

Facebook has quickly become the “Microsoft of social networking,” especially following the demise of MySpace. But just as Google made Microsoft into the underdog in search, Google can once again play the underdog to Facebook in social with Google+. It’s strange and paradoxical all the way around because Facebook is for some people a counterweight to the power of Google.

Yet in some quarters of Silicon Valley and beyond it appears that an undetermined number of people are frustrated with Facebook and some of its perceived inflexibility around groups and contact management. This is based on my anecdotal conversations and interactions with people around Google+.

What If the “Cool Kids” Leave the Party?

Among the reactions, Robert Scoble celebrates and is almost giddy over the idea that “Your mom won’t use Google+.” VC Fred Wilson is “rooting for Google+.” And some marketers are equally rooting for Google+.

Professional Facebook observer David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, also lauded Google+. But like Scoble he argues mainstream users won’t abandon Facebook any time soon.

Social networking is partly about utility, partly about silly fun and partly about fashion. If the hipsters and “cool kids” leave the party will others be far behind?

In the near term Facebook realistically doesn’t have much to fear from Google+. But what about the medium and long term? Will it matter if Facebook loses the hearts and minds of the “digerati”?

It just might.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Facebook | Features: Analysis | Google: Google+ | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • E.B.

    If FB brings out some cool features to counter Google+ soon then it may not be that easy for Google to upstage FB. Orkut used to be very popular in India but then facebook came along and now Orkut is dying a very slow & painful death here. What matters is how FB keeps intact its coolness quotient.

    On the other hand, Internet marketing industry is always looking out for new avenues for marketing. If they find Google+ better for their business, they may desert FB. What will follow is terrible hype & noise and soon Google+ may become more popular

  • Greg Sterling

    Agree that if Facebook matches features and addresses complaints it will take some wind out of G+’s sails.

  • Rick Bucich

    I think generally no, but it does represent a demand for a significant social platform from Google specifically. Anyone who has been a user for an extended period of time could see the bits and pieces of a social platform which were never tied together…we’re seeing that now. And, there are yet many other pieces still to bolt on.

  • Riccardo Angius

    Regarding hipsters and the “cool people”: google+ looks intuitive and hip with respect to FB which currently is indeed user-friendly, but still feels a bit too much like management software.

    Look at Tumblr: they don’t have the best platform ever, yet a beautiful and well-thought front-end has managed to land them a huge userbase.

  • Dave Fowler

    I get the impression that many people have a love-hate relationship with Facebook, so it will be interesting to see how this little battle plays out. The buzz around G+ will surely force Facebook to start showing a little more flexibility and to become more user-friendly, as well as leading to further innovation from both players, and faster. All of which can only be a good thing; near-monopolies are never ideal for end-users.

  • Paul Chaney

    What will matter is if Facebook loses the hearts and minds of people like my wife, my sister and my mother…and brands, of course, since they pay the bills. Whether folks like Scoble and others tend to leave, I’m not sure that will have much effect at this stage. Regardless, some social anthropologist should study the growth of G+ for the next few years and determine the dynamics behind it. Perhaps a pattern inspired by the “cool kids” would be revealed.

  • Keir Gibson

    I’m not blown away by it, and if I am honest I believe this hype is 50% surprise that Google has managed to impress us with something social. Some people I have talked to are very anti Facebook and this is where there love for Google+ has stemmed from.

    In my opinion it is a waiting game, we have to see what is rolled out, how many people use it and what the impact it is going to have on your life, because Facebook has had an impact on people’s the day to day activity.

    If this had been brought out a year or two ago, when Facebook didn’t have as much negativity around it because of its privacy issues etc then I don’t believe that there would be a demand so yes I agree, to a degree, that it is based on a pent up demand.

  • Kris Schumacher

    I’m not sure if Google+ will really take off or not, but I think the “Cool Kids” have already left Facebook. Just look at Tumblr’s growth rate to see where they’re going. Also, of Facebook’s millions of “active” members, how active are they, really? In my experience people typically use it heavily for a few months and than taper off so that they’re not using it much at all except for a quick check-in. I really don’t see this type of social networking being the major place for brand interactions in the future, as it will likely evolve into something which makes more sense for everyone that we haven’t even seen yet, or it will continue to fragment into more relevant niches. IMHO it’s all somewhat over-hyped.

  • K.J.

    It is nice to see that Facebook finally has a legitimate rival. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

  • Radha

    I love facebook and its a user friendly social site.Google just copied fb with some extra added feature like hangouts and circles.Nothing much.

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