Google+ And Facebook: Who’s Copying Whom?

Google+ and Facebook are copying the crap out of each other – and that’s good for consumer choice, says Clint Boulton

There’s been a lot of news around Google+ over the last few days. Actually more faux controversy than news, and some of it involves Facebook, so consider this a Google+ versus Facebook wrap.

First, Mike Elgan wrote a detailed post for Datamation about how Facebook is becoming the next Yahoo. He notes that in addition to copying Foursquare and Groupon to check-ins and local deals, Facebook has been copying Google+ features left and right.

For example, Facebook introduced more granular sharing, Smart Lists (an automated friend populator) and Subscribe, which lets users follow other users even if they don’t know them.

Elgan wrote that this mimics Google+ Circles construct, which allow users to follow anyone else. Actually, the Subscribe button first follows Twitter, which started this asymmetric sharing trend.

What he fails to mention is that Google copied Facebook with a full-fledged social network. Users post status updates, photos and videos. They can even play games, which was popularised on Facebook first.

Yes, Google+ Hangouts feel as though they were copied by Facebook’s Skype integration, but Google started this copycat war, not Facebook. And you know what? Consumers win from the constant copycat “innovation.”

People now have two big networks to choose between where people and content matter instead of one.

Time for some innovation

One could argue Google would never have built a social network if it weren’t for Facebook’s unmitigated success in picking up 750 million-plus users.

Consider this complaint from Paul McNamara on NetworkWorld that Google CEO Larry Page hasn’t updated his profile in more than a month.

You could argue he’s busy running the biggest search engine in the world, but that argument is weak. It takes 3 seconds to post an update on Google+, and with Google+ for Android or iPhone, anyone can reach the network from almost anywhere.

There’s a reason why Google took so long to get to Google+, and it’s not only former CEO and current executive chairman Eric Schmidt’s fault: The Google guys don’t like social. They’re math and algorithm guys.

If you think Page, co-founder Sergey Brin and Schmidt get their kicks using social networks, you don’t know them at all. Look how little they tweet on Twitter – it’ usually to promote Google products. They don’t like to share on these networks.

So while I think Elgan may be right that Facebook has to cook up some real innovation to avoid being the one-trick joke Yahoo has become, he ought to acknowledge that at least Facebook forced Google into a competitive measure it otherwise would have ignored.

And that’s not all the copying we’ll see. Facebook is expected to launch a media-sharing service this week at F8.

You could argue Facebook is following Google, which has added movie streaming to YouTube. Google Music beta has been in play since May.

Over time, expect both movie and music access to become available on Google+, though well after Facebook launches its own media service.

So who copies whom there? It’s an imperfect science and it doesn’t matter because consumers are getting what they want.