As of now, it’s still unclear as to what exactly Google+ is going to be. For some, like Digg founder Kevin Rose (who replaced his longstanding blog with a redirect to his G+ page), it’s a platform for discussion, an ecosystem uninhibited by mandatory follow backs or character limits.
But for Google? G+ is a tool for systematizing information. Its aim, unlike Facebook, isn’t to bring the world together – it’s to assign social relevance to pieces of information from which to determine its ranking in search; hence, the +1s.
As with anything new, Google+ is being held against its predecessors to approximate what exactly it is. It’s a device we use all the time in sports: So-and-so is the next Michael Jordan, or this guy’s going to be the next Tiger Woods. Too easy? Sometimes. But it’s a necessary tool that helps us lay the foundation for understanding something.
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Naturally, Google+ is being silhouetted against the two biggest social networks out there: Facebook and Twitter.
Most famously, it’s being dubbed a “Facebook killer” – an overused Machiavellian frame of thinking I’m not terribly fond of (so apologies for the headline).
But a few minds sprinkled throughout the internet are saying that Google+ is actually more of a threat to Twitter as its biggest, most well-equipped competitor yet. (Fair warning: I’m hardly a developer, so I’m entering this arena from a user perspective.)
Over at GigaOM, Mathew Ingram has a fascinating post up titled “Is Google+ a Bigger Threat to Twitter than Facebook?” The short of the article is that Google+ and Twitter share the same defining characteristics, even if G+ is more akin to Facebook at first glance.
- In real-time Information is traded instantaneously
- Out in the open Facebook, on the other hand, is private
- Possess asymmetrical relationships In that you don’t need to follow someone back to follow them
- Potently Viral The nature of Twitter’s “retweets” and Facebook’s “Shares” have the potential to spread content very, very fast
And as it currently stands, Google+ is also an excellent medium for discussion. A post by Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic considers Twitter’s strengths when held against Google+. He offers that Twitter isn’t necessarily “good” at conversation, but rather evokes something more like a “call and response,” or what he terms to be “an idea barter.” Essentially, exchanges on Twitter end abruptly after a few short quips are exchanged.
But I’d offer that Twitter’s ecosystem is different from both Facebook and Google+ for one major reason – one that essentially guarantees its endurance even if G+ does share a number of its defining characteristics, or if Twitter’s conversations are more stilted: First and foremost, Twitter was designed with mobile in mind to be used on the go.
As I covered previously, new research from the Pew Institute indicated that as many as 25% of Americans are doing the majority of their web browsing from their smartphones in lieu of computers; smartphone penetration is only growing.
Twitter’s 140 character limit was initially built to work within (some would say) an antiquated SMS model. Before smartphones, when people wanted to tweet something they had to text it directly to the service. Over time, that brevity’s impacted a philosophy that’s enabled Twitter to become exactly what it is today: A constant, evolving stream of information built from highlights. It’s an ethos that’s refocused the way we sift through content and data, maximizing consumption. It’s changed the way we parse out what’s important, and, thanks to the democratizing power of the crowd–such as with hashtags–what isn’t.
I think Neicole M. Crepeau said it best in this post, which is fully worth reading: “Twitter is an information network; Google Plus is a social network.”
And therein lies what I think is the key differentiation, in that Twitter puts in our hands the important news of the moment. Google+ has the capacity to be an information stream like Twitter (or, as one friend in my Circles put it, a “torrential downpour”). But Google+’s ability to go beyond the character limit is exactly why it won’t be as good as Twitter at this specific task: Information will be more robust, yes, but also more verbose. If brevity is the soul of wit, then wit is what’s at the heart of Twitter. It’s the lifeblood that’ll keep it alive.
And though it’s still far, far too early to make any bold statements about what exactly Google+ is or will evolve to be, the only way we’ll get there is to begin crossing off exactly what it isn’t.
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Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.