Let me start out this post by saying that Facebook is far from perfect. Back in September I expressed my growing frustration with the social network that at the time was being riddled with levels of spam that many like myself deemed simply unacceptable. And while I still think that Facebook has a lot of room to grow and that there are definitely improvements to be made, I must say that the social network is heading in an alright direction in my eyes. I mean, the network is already in the progress of beefing up its presence with music-related services and activities in a move that is essentially putting MySpace out of its misery. Sure, not all of Facebook’s changes and improvements are being seen as beneficial. Just look at the “improved” chat system for example. But when it boils down to it, the developers and engineers behind Facebook are actively working to maintain the site and continue making it a fun and enjoyable community for its climbing user base.
Starting with one of the more popular features of the service, Google Hangouts – a feature that allows for live webcam-to-webcam conferencing – is nothing more than a slightly rebranded and re-designed implementation of the video chat feature that we see inside of Google Talk and Gmail. Really. Both services even make use of the same Google plugin in order to function.
At that, we’re not even considering all of the other alternatives such as Skype that are already out there and provide a perhaps more polished implementation of the same concept.
Even looking at “new” features brought into the Google Plus mobile applications I can’t help but see knockoffs of previous Google accomplishments. Looking closely at Stream, which promises to “get updates from your Circles or from people nearby” and “instantly discover whats going on in any neighborhood you’re in”, I can’t help but thing of Google Latitude which similarly allows users to “find out who’s nearby and meet up” and “help friends and family stay in touch with you by sharing your location with whomever you choose.” Hard to miss the similarity, isn’t it? Yet Google is making it seem like a brand new feature.
Being someone who cares deeply about privacy on the Internet, the only thing I see truly innovative about Google Plus is the introduction of Circles which allows users to group and selectively share statuses and content with specific friends and acquaintances. That said, though, Facebook has offered the same ability to selectively share updates with specific people for as long as I have been using the service. The only problem? Using it requires a bit of effort; something that many critics of the site seem to be unwilling to invest.
Yes, Circles implements it a bit “cleaner”, but the fact of the matter is that the feature already existed in Facebook.
Perhaps most importantly, I really don’t have any greater trust in Google (in retrospect to Facebook) when it comes to holding my personal data. After all, we’re talking about a company that has catered to the data mining industry since the get-go and has a less than spotless record when it comes to handling private data.
When all is said and done, I think this comic from XKCD really sums it up:
After all, Google Plus really hasn’t brought anything innovative to the table yet, but has rather mimicked features from other services (including their own, mind you) that have been out for ages.