For my Technologizer column on TIME.com this week, I wrote about the controversy over Google+’s insistence that members sign up with their “common names,” a requirement that displeases people who wish to be able to maintain a secondary identity online (as well as folks who have gotten caught in the crossfire, such as ones who Google has mistakenly believed to have fake names). After finishing the column, I drove to Facebook’s F8 conference, at which Mark Zuckerberg and company announced wildly ambitious plans to record your entire life from birth and log as many of your daily actions as possible. And the world changed.
We don’t know yet whether 800 million Facebook members will be as enthusiastic about Facebook’s new features as Zuckerberg seemed to be at his F8 keynote. But judging from the history of Facebook to date, it’s safer to bet that they’ll come around to Zuck’s way of thinking than that they’ll reject it.
If the new everything-you-ever-did-and-will-ever-do Facebook catches on, Google+ may begin to look a tad quaint. It doesn’t have anything to rival Facebook’s life-encapsulating Timeline, and its platform for third-party apps is just getting off the ground. I presume that the folks responsible for Google+ are having some interesting conversations today about how to respond, and may be figuring out how to launch similar features.
I hope they don’t move to clone the new Facebook. More than ever, Facebook wants a lot of the stuff that fills its pages to be automated: Every time you listen to a song, watch a movie, read a news story or achieve a victory in a game, it’ll be pushed out to your pals without your intervention. It’ll also be tallied up, so your friends know how many tunes you listened to this month and who they were by. (If Facebook could detect every piece of popcorn you ate and keep cumulative records of your popcorn-eating activities, it probably would.)
But one of the nicest things about Google+ is that it’s not overrun by machine-generated spam. It’s a place where people decide to share stuff because it’s interesting. Quality over quantity. If the service focuses on that, it’ll be way more compelling than if it’s overly influenced by Mark Zuckerberg’s singular vision.
As for Twitter, it too has a unique feel. Unlike Facebook, it’s as much about following people who you don’t know, be they celebrities or simply random strangers. And those people share what they’re doing and what they’re thinking mostly in their own words. To date, Twitter seems content to follow its own road–in many ways it’s an anti-Facebook–so I’m not too concerned that it’ll devolve into a Facebook clone.
For now, I find things to like in Facebook, Google+ and Twitter–and spend more time than I should on all three services. Here’s hoping that all three stay true to themselves. The odds of anybody building a better Facebook than Facebook are slim, but building something that’s as good as Facebook–but different–is no impossible dream.