How Does Google+ Stack Up Against Facebook?
With Google+, the behemoth of Web search may have finally figured out social networking. Demand for Google+ invites is reportedly through the roof, and critics are generally pleased with how the service works.
But do we really need another social network? Can Google+ offer a service that Facebook does not? While you wait for the chance to see for yourself, take a look at this slideshow to learn how Facebook and Google+ compare.
Look and Feel: Google+
Facebook users should be quite comfortable with Google+, because the layout is nearly identical. Comment streams run down the center of the page, flanked by groups on the left and friend suggestions on the right. Chat windows appear in the bottom-right corner, just as on Facebook.
Look and Feel: Facebook
Yup, Google isn't hiding its design inspirations, as UXBoy points out in a side-by-side comparison. Facebook has a few extra bells and whistles, though, in the form of events and games.
Creating Groups in Google+
A big draw of Google+ is the way it forces users to separate family, friends, and acquaintances into separate groups, called "circles." Users can create their own custom circles and add people by dragging them in from a list of contacts.
Creating Groups in Facebook
Unlike Google+, Facebook is not designed around the group dynamic, but users can make public or private groups, with the option to allow all members to invite other people into the fold. It's more of an optional feature--family members can have a little pow-wow, for instance--than a way of sifting out who sees what.
Profiles in Google+
I'm using the page for my colleague Daniel as an example here. You can see that Google+ profiles resemble a layout that Facebook previously used, separating status updates, information, and photos into separate tabs. One nice touch in Google+: When a user has multiple profile images, you can click the image to swap the thumbnail. (Try it on the page of Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of engineering.)
Profiles in Facebook
Facebook's recently redesigned profile pages condense everything into a single view. Brief biographical tidbits and a strip of recent photos float above the user's wall and recent activity. In a column to the left, Facebook still offers separate tabs for photos and other information.
Photos on Google+ have a neat-looking staggered layout (but at least in my circle, there isn't much to see right now). Facebook's almighty album view makes for a superior friend-stalking environment. (I've blurred their faces for privacy here.)
Mobile Apps Compared
For now, the Google+ mobile app (left) is available only on Android, but it comes with a unique group-chat feature called Huddle. The Google+ iPhone Web app offers more-basic functions, including status updates, check-ins, and photo viewing. Facebook's app has more features, including events and private chat, and it's available on more platforms.
Bonus Google+ Feature: Hangouts
I haven't spent much time with Hangouts, which allows as many as ten Google+ users to video-chat simultaneously, but it has lots of potential. The ability to watch YouTube videos live with friends, as shown here, could make for hilarious time-wasting.
Bonus Google+ Feature: Sparks
Can't figure out what to do on Google+? A section of the site called "Sparks" serves up news articles based on your interests. The feature is kind of bland right now, as it lacks any sort of social interaction, but perhaps that will change.
Facebook's Secret Weapon: Games
What Facebook lacks in simplicity, it makes up for with heaps of time-sucking diversions, such as FarmVille. There have been some indications that Google+ may become a gaming hub--the company has been looking for a gaming product manager--but for now Facebook dominates social games, which are a big reason that people spend so much time on the site. If Google decides to integrate Web-based apps, especially games, via its Chrome Web Store, Google+ would be able to compete more squarely with Facebook on the entertainment front.