Why Twitter Should be Very Worried About Google+

When Google unexpectedly launched its new social network Google+ earlier this week, many pundits were skeptical about the company’s latest attempt to enter the social arena. Given Google’s dismal track record when it comes to these kinds of products, that kind of skepticism made sense, but after using it extensively for the last few days, I can’t help but think that it is the single biggest threat Twitter has had to face yet.

Google, being late to the party, had the advantage of being able to learn from Twitter, Facebook and every other social network out there right now.

Note: I’m consciously not saying that it’s a threat to Facebook (at least not for now), as I think the group dynamics and strong network effect that made Facebook what it is today will continue to be relevant and have locked users in for now.

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Twitter’s Problem and Google’s Advantage

What Google+ makes abundantly clear is that Twitter’s success was a happy accident. While Google was able to bake all of Twitter’s current core functions (status updates, /replies/retweets/shares/photo sharing etc.) into its service at launch, Twitter grew organically. That, at the time, was to Twitter’s advantage. Now, however, it is holding the company’s growth back, as those conventions that grew out of this are anything but intuitive for newcomers. Indeed, one could argue that everything Twitter has done over the last few months was meant to rein this chaos in.

Why Twitter Should be Concerned

So here is why I think Twitter should be very concerned:

It’s Everywhere Google Is: Google added a Google+ notification icon to the Sandbar (the black bar that sits on top of every Google product now). It’s crack. It keeps drawing you back to Google+. If you regularly use search, Gmail or Google Docs, Google+ will also be just one click away.

Even though Google’s +1 buttons don’t do much yet, those buttons will soon be connected to Google+ in some form as well, giving Google+ an instant presence on virtually every major website.

media-brandsCircles: Google took Twitter’s asymmetric follower model and put some great twists on it. Thanks to this, you can use Google+ just like you would use Twitter: to follow interesting people. When they share something publicly, it will appear in your stream.

While Google is mostly describing circles as a way to share content privately or semi-privately with select groups, it’s also an easy way to create Twitter-like lists with interesting people you would like to follow. Consuming content – whether from your friends or media brands – will become a major part of the Google+ experience.

Comments: Twitter’s @replies are clunky at best and hard to explain to new users. On Google+, you just leave a comment and a real and real-time discussion can form around the content. That is far more compelling and easier to use than using @replies. Google uses +replies in these comment threads to make these discussions even easier to follow and to push out notifications to the Sandbar when somebody mentions you.

fail_whaleGoogle+ Will be a Platform: Currently, there are no APIs for developers to write products that could hook into Google+. That means we can’t have aggregation tools, third-party clients or anything else that has become standard in the Twitter ecosystem right now.

All of that is coming, though, and while Twitter has managed to squander most of its developer community’s trust, Google doesn’t have to worry about that at all. Indeed, Google will likely be able to offer access to the Google+ firehose to anybody who wants it, free of charge.

No artificial character limits: For a long time now, Twitter’s proponents have argued that Twitter’s 140 character limit was an advantage. It keeps posts brief and to the point. Once you use Google+ for a bit, though, you come to realize that those constraints are really just annoying at the end – and likely hard to explain to a mainstream user anyway.

Google Doesn’t Have to Worry About Monetization: After all these years, Twitter still hasn’t figure out how to make money in a way that won’t alienate its users. Google can just stick some AdSense ads into the Google+ sidebar if it really wants to monetize Google+ directly.

Hangouts: Built-in video chats are a killer feature. Nobody else is doing anything this slick right now.

There are lots of other small reasons why I think Google+ could threaten Twitter: built-in photo sharing, for example, the potential for making it a platform for working collaboratively and extending it to every other Google product in some form. Then, there are the mobile apps for the mobile web, Android and iPhone (iPhone is coming soon). Those include a group messaging feature and Foursquare-like check-ins.

What do You Think?

What do you think? I’m I too optimistic about Google+ here and too down on Twitter? Let me know in the comments.

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Frederic Lardinois founded SiliconFilter in 2011. Before starting this site, he wrote about 1,500 articles for ReadWriteWeb. His areas of interest are consumer web and mobile apps, as well as Internet-connected devices like cars, smart sensors and toasters. You can reach him at [email protected]

33 COMMENTS

  1. While I would agree with you that Facebook should not be immediately threatened by this move by Google, it’s certain that the way Google has implemented their broadcast access controls is much superior/intuitive/simple to Facebook’s “Everyone/Friends/FriendsofFriends” and of course the god-awful “Custom” view. I’d put money down saying that the use of the “Custom” view is in the single-digit percentile.

  2. Not to mention that Google+ doesn’t suffer from a now largely pointless 140 character limit. I also like the Google* Android app better than any of the Twitter clients.

  3. I agree that the140 character limit is now pointless, and circles will make it much easier to set up relevant flows of information than possible using Twitter or even something like Hoot Suite. And the Google+ app for Android is nice.

    The one aspect of Twitter that I’m not seeing in Google+ is hashtags. It’s really useful to set up search on a particular hashtag and watch the flow of comments. I’m not sure how something like that can be set up in Google+, although obviously its still early.

  4. @BrianBuzz Though I don’t have access to the Field Test, from what I’ve seen and read about Google+, Sparks seems to fill this feature; a place to have discussions around topics.

  5. I totally agree. I really hope Twitter finally bites the dust. It was an is just a way of stepping backwards. 140 characters? Come ooon! That’s just making our youth use gibberish shortened words, destroying the language. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an opponent of language evolution, but the way people are trying to fit a full thought into 140 characters is just sickening at points.

    The lack of real and easy communication is also missing from Twitter, that Google+ makes so effortless. The @ somebody is really backwards, and there are no threads that people can read.

    Google+ is way more mature even in this stage than other Google social tries like Buzz and Wave. The Wave project was really cool IMHO, but lacked the resources to work properly, now what I’m seeing is that a lot of those ideas are coming back in Google+, and I’m really happy to see that…

  6. +1 is for sharing search results or “like”s. Twitter is bookmarks. 140 means status. It will be fucking short. A paragrpah as status is just fuking dumb.

  7. @eg1290 @BrianBuzz I currently do not see any social component around Sparks. Currently, you identify an interest and it brings in content around that interest. Nothing more at this point. Glorified Bookmarks if you ask me.

  8. @lapdance The idea of social media is to connect with people. It’s a 2 way channel. Twitter for most is just one way. You are right about statuses not needing more than 140 characters, but why do I need a whole platform just to post my status? It seems like such a waste of resources, and most importantly my time…

    If I wanna express my thoughts about something or someone they are usually more complex than what fits in 140 characters.

    Those few reasons are enough for me not to like Twitter :)

  9. “No artificial character limits:”140 character limit comes from SMS limits(minus some spacing for twitter handles) not some random number generator that happend to choose 140 …

  10. @NAudo Granted, it’s not a completely random number. For most users, though, it could just as well be. I’d guess that most people don’t even know about Twitter’s SMS/group messaging legacy and likely don’t care.

  11. @mikegreenberg @eg1290 @BrianBuzz

    Sparks is definitely not anything like hashtag in Twitter. From what I can tell, there no way to get a feel for trending topics across a mass population in G+. In this regard, Twitter has value.

  12. @kozjegyzo @lapdance let us assume that the problem of social media, as you say is connecting people.

    i am assuming there are three types of people here.

    1) people you know .. here we want to make the connection strong i guess

    2) people you do not know … i think the only way to connect to a stranger is *common intrest*

    3) people you may never know .. celebs

    1) how can twitter solve this ? easy on the eye 140 char statuses. sharable bookmarks. integration with last.fm and what not. statuses. mood. quotes.

    2) tweet about film’s constantly and you will get a film buff for a follower. nuff said.

    3) if you regularly follow a celeb, you may get him to retweet your tweet ! what more can you want ?

  13. Re: Google+ as a platform.

    I thing Google is definitely *not* going to go into this business. They are way too concerned about privacy. Not to mention that their “firehose” is deliberately small because sharing happens by default among friends (“circles”) only.

    Google has some nice big data APIs, but they are carefully anonymous. Also, they have some interesting “small” APIs for building plugins and tools for people to use, but they are all carefully opt-in by users.

  14. i think both facebook and twitter are directly threatened. There are clear flaws with both companies:

    facebook — forcing companies to use their virtual currency (at 30% of revenue), bad privacy controls, bad personal record of ethics / privacy, antiquated UI, no way to differentiate “friends”, no way to “follow”

    twitter — killing their ecosystem — see “chirp” , asking big $$$ for fire-hose, zero product innovation in 2 years, artificial 140 character constraint

    I’m hoping google+ kils them both. Myspace used to be big … three years ago. Change happens fast.

  15. I don’t get it.

    I don’t see how Google+ interfaces at all well with non-smart-phones. Twitter is an SMS platform that has gotten bigger than that. As long as Google+ doesn’t transmit via SMS, it can’t compete with that – the very core of Twitter’s functionality.

  16. All good points, but my Google+ experience has shown up two annoying flaws.

    1. It’s impossible to know what’s going on. If I go to my feeds or whatever they are called, old messages sit at the top of the page. Newer ones are scattered throughout – that’s just confusing.

    2. About 50% of the people following me, or adding or whatever the term Google+ uses is, are flaky. The only option Google’s email message gives me is to follow them – what’s more it bundled the non-flaky incoming requests with the flaky ones.

    I hope Google+ is a work in progress and some of these rough edges get knocked off before too much longer.

  17. @lapdanceou’re wrong.Twitter is not RSS+ is not

    You’re wrong. Twitter can not be RSS+. Seriously, It too much noised to be it. But Ploq can be called RSS+, it really kill noise at newsfeeds and have many thing never before. Ploq is match RSS+. http://ploq.me/faq/

  18. @lapdance You’re wrong. Twitter can not be RSS+. Seriously, It too much noised to be it. But Ploq can be called RSS+, it really kill noise at newsfeeds and have many thing never before. Ploq is match RSS+. http://ploq.me/faq/

  19. @andybak @dyson.logos a whole huge chunk of the planet is very SMS driven. the Arab spring was facilitated in a large way by twitter on sms

  20. @andybak @dyson.logos

    Indeed. There are entire twitter communities that use it almost exclusively by SMS. I maintain two accounts, one that I use by SMS with close friends and one that I use via application with fellow bloggers.

  21. I have used it for sometime now and I have found it to be a better facebook replacement than twitter replacement.

    twitter is designed for public asynchronous follow model. 1000 people following a celebrity. @ replies allows me to tell the “celebrity” what I think without it polluting ie spamming everybody elses stream. If the “celebrity” chooses, they can engage me. Either way the original tweet once consumed disappears in the information river …

    I tried to follow Larry Page and Vic Gundotra on +1… Everytime someone comments, it bubbles to the top of the stream. And old posts by those guys are always on top of my stream due to their engagement scores. Facebook fanpages have the same problem of engagement… Though facebook does some voodoo burying.

    Facebook fan pages also have another problem it mixes my friends who post at a different rate and professionals who post at a much higher rate … Mixing friends and interests does not seem to work. at least for me..

    Overall Ive found facebook fan pages and google+ which is a lot like facebook fan pages to not meet the information and interest network that twitter is. Twitter allows me to follow WSJ columnists and President Obama and have a conversation with a tech blogger at the same time. These other networks not so much…

  22. Here’s why I think Twitter doesn’t have to worry.

    Tweets are public.

    The core beauty of Twitter is that anything you write can be read by anyone. Granted, 99.9999% of what is written is of interest to a small audience, if anyone, but no other service can supply the ability to search the current utterances of millions of people about subjects of interest, whether they be pinpoint or broad.

    There are (at least) tens of thousands of recognizable communities on Twitter. Because Twitter is public, these communities often blur into each other and allow us to discover interesting people at the edges of our spheres of interest, constantly redefining our own sphere as a result.

    Most of the new professional contacts I have made and work I’ve received over the last eighteen months has occurred through Twitter, and my involvement in the #eventprofs, #engage365, #assnchat, #speakchat, and other communities. Through them I’ve made many online connections that have then turned into face-to-face connections, some of which have led to solid business relationships.

    I don’t see how this kind of osmosis will happen with Google+, though I think it will be very useful for maintaining *existing* relationships (the hangouts look very promising in that regard).

    Just my 2¢.

    -Adrian-

  23. @ASegar Imagine if Google allows you to make certain circles public and then allows you to separate your feeds between circles. Boom, your community issue is solved, and in a much better way than the hashtag hack that twitter has been working on for the past few years. Everyone can copy and follow the community circle you follow, people can share information with that circle and get added to the group if their content is good, nobody else has to know you’re a member of #secretagameofthronesknittingclub ;)

  24. @dyson.logos @andybak If they can get Huddle to work with SMS in the same manner that GroupMe works then this is next to solved also. Google have a really smart platform here they can easily manipulate to whatever they need to do.

  25. @MattieTK I’m not sure that the ability to make some circles public will do what Twitter does so well in its crude but simple fashion. (Won’t that potentially lead to some privacy conflicts between the people in a circle that you want to make public?) I’d worry that the implications would be complex and hard to predict—rather like the byzantine privacy settings in FaceBook which get changed without warning every once in a while.

    There’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of everything-I-tweet-is-public. For everything else, there’s Google+.

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