In many ways, the story of Google+ and Twitter is that of a planned community vs. organic growth. Twitter was never conceived to be what it is today. Its success was purely accidental and thanks to being in the right place at the right time. Its early years were chaotic. Users invented features that Twitter later canonized (@ replies, RTs etc.). Now, Twitter has grown to be a major success, but even after all these years, the company still struggles to explain what it really does and the old conventions that made perfect sense as it grew up now make potential mainstream users feel like they don’t understand how it works.
Compare that to Google+. As GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram rightly points out today, all the major features and attributes that venture investor Mark Suster praises about Twitter can also be found in Google+. It’s social and features real-time updates, an open architecture, asymmetric following and has all the hallmarks of a system where content can go viral.
Google+ = What Twitter Could’ve Been if it had Known What it Wanted to Be
While many pundits prefer to think about Google+ in terms of what it means for Facebook, I’ve argued elsewhere that Twitter should be more concerned about it than Facebook. The reason for this, I think, is that Google+ is very similar to Twitter, the difference being that Google+ was always meant to be what it is today. Instead of retweets, the @ namespace and other clunky conventions, Google+ uses a vocabulary and design that encourages sharing. Instead of having to write public replies, you just click the “comment” button. Want to share a story with one of your circles? Just click the ‘share’ button. Twitter makes it hard for new users to get started, but you don’t need to learn any new conventions to use Google+.
Google’s Advantage: It Knows What it Wants Google+ to Be
Google had the benefit of seeing what worked and didn’t work on other networks. Twitter obviously didn’t have this luxury. Instead, it is now stuck with trying to rein in its chaotic ecosystem. That ecosystem, of course, is what’s still missing from Google+. A Google+ API is forthcoming, however, and we will likely see most of today’s Twitter services (or at least those that are still under active development) hook into Google+ as well.
Celebration, FL vs. New York City
For Internet users, just as for those who live in Celebration, Florida (Disney’s planned community), the question will be if Google+ is the more interesting service, or if the chaos that stems from Twitter’s organic growth makes it a more vibrant community. Currently, it seems like Google+ could win this fight.