I have spent most of the 30 Days With Google+ series examining Google+ on its own merits as much as possible. When all is said and done, though, Google+ is a social network competing with other social networks, so I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time comparing and contrasting them. So, today I am going to examine how Google+ matches up with Twitter.
Google+ and Twitter are very different social networks, yet they are still alike in some ways. Google has managed to roll aspects of both a Twitter-style social network and a Facebook-style social network into one.
How They’re Alike
Both Google+ and Twitter enable a form of virtual stalking called “following”. Basically, I can add people to follow who are not really a part of my social network at all, but whose updates and comments are of interest to me. For example, on Twitter I follow accounts like @BillGates and @BarackObama although I am quite sure they are not reciprocating.
The same scenario is possible in Google+. In fact, “Following” is one of the default Circles in Google+ that was there before I even started building my social network. This Circle is specifically intended as a placeholder for users I want to follow, but who I don’t necessarily want in any of the more intimate Circles of my Google+ network.
So, on Google+ I have people like +Mark Zuckerberg and +Sergey Brin in my “Following” Circle. Likewise, I only have 129 people in my Circles on Google+, but there are 929 people who have me in Circles. That means there are 800 people who I may or may not know who are ostensibly interested in what I share with the Public even though they are not in my social network per se.
The benefit of this set up is that it provides a platform for broadcasting information and sharing with a much wider audience that goes beyond just family and close friends. Contrast that with Facebook, where I either must add someone as a “Friend” into my social network, or set up a separate Facebook Page that lets strangers stay informed without being in my network, but that requires me to maintain two separate Facebook personas.
How They’re Different
While both Google+ and Twitter allow anonymous others to follow someone that isn’t really part of their social network, there are some significant differences as well. Specifically, I have noted differences in length, privacy, and audience.
• Length. Twitter is infamous for its 140-character max. That includes the names of any Twitter users I want to specifically direct the message to, the spaces between the words, and any URLs I might link to. 140 characters does not go very far.
The limitation of only having 140 characters to work with has led to an explosion of URL-shortening services like TinyURL and Bit.ly, and to very creative adaptations of the English language in order to shorten things to accommodate the restriction.
Google+ gives me the same opportunity to share updates with people outside of my social network–and the public at large–but without limiting the length of my post. Ultimately, though, this is not a black and white issue with a clear winner.
The Google+ approach is much more flexible, and allows for richer posts, but it can also cause more clutter. The Twitter system is genius in its simplicity, and it fills a unique niche thanks to that annoying 140-character limitation.
• Privacy. On Twitter, I have none. Well, almost none. It is possible to set my Twitter profile up as private where only those I allow are able to see my tweets. I can also just direct message (DM) someone who is following me for a private one on one chat. But, anything I tweet out the normal way is shared with the world–those who are following me will see my tweet in their stream, and anyone else who doesn’t follow me can still find and see my tweet by searching Twitter.
Google+, on the other hand, straddles the fence between Twitter and Facebook and enables me to choose on a post by post basis whether the update should be share with the general public, or just my Circles, or just a specific Circle, or maybe even just designated individuals.
From my perspective, it seems like Mark Zuckerberg has not used Google+ at all. But, it’s possible that he’s posting 100 times a day, but just not sharing those posts with the general public, which means they don’t show up for me.
• Audience. Twitter has roughly ten times the audience of Google+ right now. Yes, I realize that Google+ is still in limited “Field Trial” mode, and that it is not a fair comparison. But, even when Google+ launches to the general public, it will still have some catching up to do.
From a marketing or breaking news perspective, Twitter is a more valuable tool–and will continue to be more valuable for quite a while–because it offers a larger audience to broadcast to.
In the end, both Google+ and Twitter offer me the ability to follow others who aren’t in my social network, as well as a platform for broadcasting my own updates to those outside my social network who choose to follow me, and to the general public.
I see the difference a little like comparing CNN Headline News to the main CNN channel–Twitter is Headline News and Google+ is CNN. Let me explain.
CNN is a great source of news, and devotes more time to investigating stories, talking with experts, presenting both sides, and diving deeper into the topic at hand. But, if I just want to know what is going on in the world right now, I would rather switch over to Headline News where I can just get the 30-second sound bites that basically announce the headlines and let me know what the breaking news is.
Similarly, both Google+ and Twitter are good sources of information, but Twitter is still better for just keeping up with breaking news and trending topics, while Google+ provides a platform for more comprehensive coverage of those same topics.