Facebook And Google Go To War. The Winner Is Us

Both Facebook and Google have been rolling out new features over the last seven days or so, seemingly in a bid to out do each other. As the war hots up between the established king of social networking (Facebook) and young pretender to the throne (Google+), the eventual winner can only be us, their users.

Here’s what has been introduced in the last week – and what is expected to come out of Facebook’s annual developer conference, f8 and Google’s seemingly non-stop crusade to capture us all (and our data).

Recently Introduced – Facebook

Brace yourselves. This is a rather large list. Facebook has clearly been spooked by Google and has rushed to introduce new features to counteract those that Google+ has done better.

Subscribe – It’s now possible to subscribe to the public posts people make without becoming friends with them. The potential impact of this is big. If, like me, you’re a private person on Facebook but occasionally want to post or share something to a wider audience you can. This basically gives Facebook dual functionality. You can market yourself to your peers publicly, while retaining privacy amongst your closer, chosen circle of friends. As an example, I subscribe to MG Siegler, a TechCrunch writer I enjoy reading. He’d never friend me, we don’t know one another – but at least I can now see what he says publicly and he is safe in the knowledge that I can’t see the stuff he only wants to share with friends and family. Genius move by Facebook.

Smart Lists – One of the big advantages of Google+ was their Circles feature. The ability to create lists of people you follow and categorise them, then share certain bits of information with only those groups that would be interested. Facebook has long struggled with this concept, but they’ve learned fast and introduced Smart Lists. Now, based on your activity, they’ve divided your friends into lists such as Close Friends, your workplace and your school.

And, of course, you can create your own lists and add who you like to them, including those in other lists. So, for example, if you create a ‘Football Fans’ list you could add your best mate from your Close Friends list. Then share your football updates with ONLY that list, saving your other friends from the hassle of reading your inane ramblings!

Notifications – Facebook used to email you incessantly with Notifications. Now you can choose to receive only important updates and a Notifications summary email. For those who are very active on the network this is a Godsend. Ironically, Facebook emailed everyone to tell them they’d be getting less emails. Got to love the irony.

Updated News Feed – Facebook have also updated their News Feed, though not everyone is seeing it yet. This is usually the thing that causes uproar amongst its users but they plow ahead anyway, knowing full well people don’t like change but they accept it anyway. Gone is the choice between Top Stories and Recent Updates. They’ve been combined and Facebook now determines what to show you based on how frequently you log in.

If you log in 10 times a day, you’ll likely see the most recent updates. If it’s your first time in a few days, Facebook will try to show you the top stories from your friends in that time period, as well as more recent updates. How well this will work (and how well it will be received – or not) is yet to be seen.

In addition, some users are already seeing Facebook’s new Ticker – a constant, live stream in the right hand column of your friends updates as they happen. You’ll be able to hover over an update in the Ticker and a pop out will show relevant information, such as Bing map of the location of the person updating. You’ll also be able to see how many likes your content has gained as a Notification. It’s a really important change that will make a big difference.

Photos – Finally, Facebook have increased the size of photo thumbnails in the News Feed, making them better to look at and more inviting to click on. This is a feature I love, personally, simply because thumbnails are generally rubbish. The bigger the better.

Recently Introduced – Google+

On to Google+ then. There has been a lot of talk lately that G+ has been running out of steam. It’s nonsense, but just as Facebook have been introducing feature after feature in the war, Google has begun to roll things out in a bid to catch up or stay ahead, depending on your point of view.

Out of Trial, Into Beta – Google+ has been live for nearly three months in trial mode, but now they’ve opened it up to everyone in beta. Log into Google, go to Google+ and get started. Invites are no longer necessary. This should boost the membership base by millions. How many will remain active on the network will be determined by the features.

Search – It has bemused people why the search giant didn’t give the ability to search within its social network when it went live. Well, now they’ve rolled it out. You can search for people or topics using the new search bar – that means you can find content that may well have been posted a while ago. Something Facebook and Twitter struggle with hugely. And you can filter by ‘Best Of’ or ‘Most Recent’ too. This puts G+ ahead on that score, at least.

Hangouts – HUGE changes on the group video messaging front. Firstly, you can now go ‘on air’, which is essentially a public Hangout that allows people to watch a Hangout without joining in, or join if there’s room. Imagine the uses of this, especially from a business point of view. You can hold presentations, for example, hosted by your experts and watched by your clients. Wow.

There’s more. Let’s break it down.

  • Screensharing: Allows you to share what’s on your screen – photos for example, with those you’re video messaging.
  • Sketchpad: Allows you to doodle, sketch or draw in realtime together. Fun?
  • Google Docs: This is interesting. You can share your documents with others as you chat, allowing real time collaborative work. The potential here for business is massive. When Google finally allows Google Apps users into Google+, this will be a feature that should be adopted widely in the business world.
  • Named Hangouts: Create a public Hangout, title it Fashion, and garner an audience of clothing obsessed people as you discuss the latest styles from Paris, New York and London. Brilliant!
  • Google+ API: Developers were given access to a very basic API for Streams recently, and now one has been introduced for Hangouts. Stay tuned for the no doubt incredible innovations in video messaging this will spawn.

So that’s what the two factions have introduced recently. What can we expect from Facebook out of f8 and from Google in the near future then?

Coming Up – Facebook (f8)

It’s (educated) guesswork at the moment, but rumours are flying about that include:

Facebook Music – The idea has been doing the round for years, but it seems that tomorrow will see the first official announcement of Facebook’s social music platform, which has been developed with the likes of Spotify, Turntable.fm and likely more. How it will work / look / be implemented we’ll have to wait and see.

Read / Watched / Listened Buttons – It seems that Facebook wants to add granularity to its sharing options. While now you have the Like button on millions of websites, it is rumoured strongly that these will be either accompanied by or replaced by more specific buttons, depending on the content. So if you’re watching a video you will no longer ‘Like’ it, you’ll tell people you ‘Watched’ it – [name] watched

will being appearing in your news feed, instead of [name] liked [title]. Useful for Facebook’s data miners, no doubt, and I like the idea in principal but we’ll see how it goes. One other thing – there’s a less strong rumour that there will be a ‘Want’ button too – this will be big for online retailers. People browsing ecommerce sites will basically be able to tell friends and family what they want, and deeper integration could allow people to create birthday or Christmas present lists. Impressive.

Redesign – Various screenshots of a completely redesigned interface have been doing the rounds and it’s hard to give any of them any weight, so I won’t share them. Google (ironic) Facebook redesigns and you’ll see them for yourself. The fact that there’s a lot of smoke about this suggests there may well be a fire to go with it. Expect the usual uproar from users when it hits!

Coming Up – Google+

This section would perhaps be better titled “What’s Missing – Google+” but I’ll be kind and assume they’ll arrive eventually.

Google+ Brand Pages – Companies are clamouring for the ability to create brand pages on G+ and rightly so, as the features it offers suit businesses perfectly. Yet we’re still waiting for them and there’s no sign they#ll appear any time soon. Facebook has had them for years, even though they are relatively poorly implemented, even now. Google+ can really get one over in this area but so far, nothing. Come on, Google, this is exactly what businesses and agencies like Fluid Creativity need to open up more markets!

Google+ API – Yes, we have a basic one, yes, we now have a Hangouts one. What developers want is a more robust one that gives more possibilities. I can see Google’s problem though – they need their API to be as right as possible from the start. Facebook’s, after all, is pretty poor still.


Facebook had, I believe, become complacent such was their dominance in the social networking arena. Yes, they made tweaks here and there, trying to improve at all times. But the launch and fast evolution of Google+ has put a bee in their bonnet. I can’t remember a time when Zuckerberg and Co rolled out so many new features in such a short period of time.

And Google, burned by the failure of Buzz, Wave, even Orkut, went away, learned and returned with something that was, at first, better than Facebook. Now, as they battle one another for supremacy, they are innovating at a breakneck speed and we, the users (and online marketers), are reaping the rewards.

There’ll never be an eventual winner. Facebook is too strong and too well loved (despite what you may read) to be killed off or fade away like MySpace. Google+ is too well integrated into every other Google product and thus almost everything we do online for Facebook to see it off. They will learn to coexist.

Which one has the most users in 10 to 20 years time will be the one that listens to its user base better. There’s no clear sign on who is doing that right now.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that it is a wonderful show to watch.

  • Written by on 21st September 2011 at 14:56
  • “Fluid Creativity is an award-winning, multi-service digital agency based in Manchester.”
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  • Gwasyneidr

    a lovely video on TED about how Google evolved, not such i nice story regards facebook…. i know where my says to follow

  • Gwasyneidr

    a lovely video on TED about how Google evolved, not such i nice story regards facebook…. i know where my says to follow