Zuckerberg on Google+: Been There, Done That

Published on July 6, 2011
by Liz Gannes

Considering that Google last week revealed the scale of its social ambitions by starting to roll out Google+, the question at today’s Facebook product launch was: What’s the Facebook reaction to this fierce new competition?

Underlying Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s remarks was the assertion that the project of connecting the world through a social network is well on its way to being done. Now that this social infrastructure is in place, with 750 million active Facebook users, new applications that encourage exponential growth in sharing between people can be built on top of it.

“We’re years ahead in terms of wiring it up,” Zuckerberg said.

However, that assertion seemed a little forced in the context of what came out today: Group and video chat tools. Even in “field test” mode, Google already offers features very similar to those Facebook is just now launching.

In fact, the two most distinctive — and so far, best loved — features of Google+ happen to be quite close to what Facebook launched: Groupings of friends and video chat.

Facebook’s new Skype-powered video chat is focused on simplicity and supports only one-to-one communication. Over at Google, one-to-one video chat has been offered for years now as a feature of Gmail, and Google+ takes this to the next level, offering users “Hangouts” where they can gather up to 10 friends, chat actively or passively and even watch YouTube videos together.

Zuckerberg and Skype CEO Tony Bates protested today that one-to-one communication is by far the most popular use of video chat. (But then, Google+ Hangouts have been live for a limited set of users for only a week.)

Meanwhile, Google+ dreamed up a snazzy (but perhaps too snazzy; it can be confusing) new way to address asymmetric friend relationships with its Circles concept. Facebook maintains that users just don’t want to put time into manually managing their friends.

Zuckerberg — who is by some accounts the single-most followed person on Google+, despite the utter lack of public updates on his profile — reiterated today that fewer than five percent of Facebook users have ever used Facebook’s “friend list” tool, which is similar in function to Google Circles (but not as nicely designed).

Zuckerberg contended that Facebook Groups — which he said half of the company’s users actively participate in — are a more natural solution, because users collaborate to create a group rather than managing their contacts behind the scenes. Facebook’s definition of groups, he said, is “everyone who’s in the group knows that everyone else is in the group.”

Still, Zuckerberg didn’t fully come out swinging. His comments and tone were not particularly feisty, and he made sure to call Google+ “a validation” of the importance of the social Web.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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