Kudos to Facebook for introducing a bunch of new privacy controls. Users may now review tagged photos, easily control who sees each post and change who sees a post after it’s gone live. Facebook has also cleaned up the way privacy options are displayed in several areas of the site.
Although Facebook claims these privacy changes have been in the pipeline for a while, they still seem like a direct response to Google+.
Central to Google’s social network is the ability to control who sees what, thanks to the “social circles” that let users sort their contacts into groups. The title of Facebook’s blog post on the new changes is “Making It Easier to Share With Who You Want,” which is essentially what Google set out to do with Google+. Eventually, sharing options will be extended to include any groups you’re in, becoming a lot like the social circle controls in Google+.
But Facebook’s latest privacy overhaul doesn’t spell doom for Google’s social network. That’s partly because Google+ got off to a good start, with more than 20 million people signing on in the first 21 days, according to ComScore. More importantly—and I know I’m being a broken record—it’s because Google’s other services, such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Docs, will potentially allow Google+ to become useful in ways Facebook is not.
Google’s plan is to make those services better through the integration of social circles. Yesterday, the company rolled out the ability to share links with specific circles through the +1 button. In the future, I speculate that users will be able to limit YouTube video access to a specific group of friends or quickly share a spreadsheet with only their co-workers. Even if you don’t use Google+ now, you may eventually be drawn to the network through its integration with other Google products.
In fairness, Facebook has its own hooks into other web services. Partner sites like Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes show reviews written by friends, Skype lets you dial people from your Facebook contact list, and Microsoft’s Bing shows you when friends have Liked a page that appears in search results. But those types of integration are more about bringing your friends list along to third-party services than they are about sharing content with select groups.
That may change in the future. Facebook already lets users form groups to talk amongst themselves, but those groups are optional, whereas Google+’s social circles are a building block of the network. If Facebook really wants to challenge Google on sharing with who you want, it still has a lot of work to do.