As the Google+ invasion continues, Facebook is feeling the heat. Although Facebook still has over 700 million users, some estimates say that Google’s social network is on track to top 20 million users by this weekend. That’s over 1 million new users a day since the service launched
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to go on the offensive the day Google+ debuted, alerting the world that his company would in turn announce “something amazing.”
At the resulting press conference on July 6, Zuckerberg protested (perhaps a little too much) that Facebook wasn’t worried about the amazing success of Google’s social network. The features he announced that day, including group and video chat, seem clearly aimed at Google+, but appear not to have set the world on fire. What can Facebook do to win back the crowd?
Zuckerberg called the press conference “the start of announcement season,” so Facebook undoubtedly has more tricks up its sleeve to compete with Google+. But what kinds of services will Facebook offer, and will the new features really help the site stay on top in the social networking game?
Here are five things we think Facebook could do to cope with the power and possibilities of Google+.
Make New Friends
Facebook certainly has the advantage right now when it comes to user base, but the company can’t just pretend that Google+ will follow Google Wave or Orkut and die a quiet death.
As long as the two companies insulate themselves from each other, users frustrated with having to repeat themselves and upload photos multiple times will end up choosing the sleeker social network over the older, tired one. I refer you to the Facebook and MySpace struggle of 2004-2010–except this time Facebook risks repeating MySpace’s mistakes.
Instead, Facebook should put differences aside and allow Google+ users to import their friends from Facebook to Google+. Facebook should deal with Google+ the same way it dealt with Twitter: Permit Google+ users to link their updates to Facebook and, in exchange, Facebook opens up its content to Google+.
Imagine exporting your Facebook friends to Google+, organizing them into smaller Circles and a larger “Facebook” Circle, and then updating your status in Google+ with a #fb hashtag (as Twitter allows you to do) to make the update appear in your Facebook news feed.
In the end, Facebook would facilitate more sharing on its site, by getting both Google+ and Twitter updates integrated into its news feeds, which makes for more-targeted ads. And maybe with a loose federation of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, users could construct more-intricate social networks–and no social network has to die.
–Megan Geuss, Staff Editor
Build an Ecosystem
Facebook has 700 million users for a reason: It’s functional. As much as everyone likes to complain about it, Facebook has so many great features–such as chat and events–that I feel like I can’t do better going anywhere else. Still, if Facebook wants to survive, it needs to weave different features together in such a way that keeps people like me on the site.
Although Facebook is a terrific platform for many things, it isn’t the one-stop shop for Web services that Google is fast becoming. Remember that Facebook and Google are competing to be “always-on” Web destinations. The problem with Facebook’s modular approach is that it gives me too many reasons to step away. I often find myself surfing away from Facebook for some vital service it doesn’t provide, or closing out the window when I’m “done” with the site.
Facebook isn’t ignorant of the problem: At a press conference last week, Zuckerberg laid out a vision for the future in which Facebook would partner with other sites to bring sharing across the Web. Even when you’re on Hulu, for example, you’d still be sharing on Facebook.
But I’d also like to have more sharing across the Facebook site itself. Facebook needs to think of its services not as individual, modular apps but as linked services, the same way Google does. Groups, chat, and events are starting to see some integration, but the social networking giant still has a long way to go before I can, for instance, organize, create, and share an event just on Facebook.
–David Daw, Staff Editor
Get Rid of Apps
When Facebook rolled out its Apps platform a few years back, it seemed kind of cool at first. You could add various gizmos to your profile, such as a political-compass quiz, or an app in which friends could draw pictures for you. For me, the curiosity quickly subsided, and–with few exceptions–the Apps platform became an annoyance more than a benefit.
The Apps platform has allowed for some cool, useful functionality. For example, I can log in to other services, such as StumbleUpon, using my Facebook account. And the platform allows me to upload pictures from my Mac at home to Facebook, from within iPhoto–no need to muck with the Facebook site.
But the annoyances outweigh the benefits of the Facebook platform as it currently stands (and as services like Flickr and Twitter show, you don’t need something as large as Facebook Apps to make integration with other apps and websites possible). My Facebook feed is littered with messages from friends’ FarmVille sessions. At any given time, I have a number of app requests and invitations waiting for me.
Most of all, Apps took away some of what made Facebook an attractive alternative to MySpace in the first place. In the early years, Facebook was a clean, well-designed website that made it easy to connect with the people you know. The arrival of Facebook Apps was a pretty significant blow. And while Google+ has some quirks that need to be worked out, it already does a good job of accomplishing what Facebook used to be known for.
–Nick Mediati, Associate Editor
Next: Competing With Circles and Losing Notifications
Compete With Circles
If the central innovation of Google+ (so far) is Circles, and the idea that your social graph doesn’t boil down to a binary “friend” or “not friend,” then Facebook could compete quite rapidly. Facebook already has a Lists feature, though not many people use it. From the Friends interface, you can click Manage Friend List, and start segregating your social graph. You can even put friends in multiple lists, just as you can sort them in multiple Circles on Google+. Right now, Lists are used only to control who can see which parts of your profile. You can message a list, but there’s a limit of 20 recipients for any message.
Really, all Facebook needs to do is make the Lists feature more prominent and ubiquitous. If Facebook were to allow wall posts, photo/video sharing, event invitations, and all other instances of social sharing to be sent to specific lists, the company would essentially duplicate the functionality of Circles. Obviously, Facebook would want to prompt users to put their friends in a list each time they add a friend, and the entire Lists interface needs work, but those are problems that Facebook could solve in the short term. The underlying technology–the hard part–is already part of the platform.
Alternatively, Facebook could buy the startup Katango and deeply integrate its nifty friend-organizing technology.
–Jason Cross, Senior Editor
Trim Down Notifications
Facebook, you and I had a good thing going for a while. Unlike MySpace, you didn’t have a lot of 13-year-old kids, you didn’t allow glitter text or nasty-looking wallpaper on profiles, and you made it easy to get in touch with people from my childhood.
Then suddenly my news feed was filled with things I didn’t care about.
I really don’t want to know each and every time one of my friends becomes friends with someone I don’t know. Although we can hide certain friends and apps to clean up the clutter, the options to do so on Facebook are limited. Either I can hide a single post, or completely mute an individual so that he or she never appears in my news feed again. Why not just give the option to hide notifications when someone changes their profile picture, or when they enter a relationship?
Right now Facebook has too much clutter, but I dare not mute anyone because I don’t want them to drop off my social radar. Give us more control to filter out what we see in our news feed, and maybe, just maybe, I will come back–ready to poke people again (heck, I may even play a game of Tetris or two, just like in the old days). Until then, Facebook, it’s over between us. I’m moving over to Google+, the sexy new social network on the block.
–Armando Rodriguez, Android phones and apps editor
Video: How to Set Google+ Privacy Settings
What move do you think Facebook should make next against Google+? Is Google+ a flash in the pan? Let us know on Twitter or on our Facebook page.