Google+ has been the topic of debate and misunderstanding since it was first introduced in 2011. On the outside it looks like a social network that is simply a clone of Facebook, but hidden underneath is a more unified and personalized Google that can take on the Facebook of today and tomorrow. In fact, when you think about these platforms overall, not just the profile and business pages, it becomes clear that Google and Facebook are taking two different paths to the same destination.
Facebook started by offering a simple way to find your friends and list basic information on a profile page. After growing in popularity, the company slowly added features like the wall, the ability to share pictures and videos, custom apps and games, private messages and fan pages. The Facebook team created each of these features internally, carefully integrating them into profiles and the overall Facebook experience.
Today, Facebook continues to evolve but in a different way. Instead of adding features to profiles, Facebook has changed its focus to adding new products that are more useful to your everyday life. Developing products like Facebook Home, which replaces your smartphone’s start screen, Graph Search, which allows you to search using natural language, or the recently released Paper mobile app, which curates news from your news feed, are designed to give you relevant information based on your past interests and actions.
Facebook’s ultimate goal is to provide a complete experience full of personalized information. As a user, you benefit by getting more relevant news and information in more places than just your news feed. Facebook gets more places to show advertisements that are more pertinent to your interests.
Google has taken a different approach. While it also began by offering a single product (the search engine), Google didn’t carefully build more and more features into that single product. Instead, Google went straight to adding more products that had little to no relation to the search engine. From internal projects like Gmail and Maps to acquisitions like YouTube and Android, Google has several products that were initially developed as stand-alone entities. This approach resulted in many Google products having vastly different user experiences, causing people to use some Google products and completely ignore others.
By creating Google+ and integrating it into all of its products, Google can create a more unified experience that encourages users to stay within their library of products. The more Google products a single person uses, the more information they can gather about their life and interests. With this additional information, Google can create a better picture of their users and offer more personalized news, information and advertisements.
Facebook and Google’s destination is simple: they both want to gather information on users so they can offer a more personalized ad and web experience. How they’ll implement this experience in the future is unknown, but it’s clear they are both taking actions now to prepare for a web that knows more about you than most of your friends.
This introduces heaps of privacy concerns, but just like people learned to live with public profile pictures and geo-targeting, something tells me they’ll appreciate the personalization more than fear it. Google has already started by offering Google Now, a service that will show you real-time and personalized news, weather, traffic and sports information without being prompted. It’s a pretty basic application right now, but the personalization aspect of Google Now is a feature that’s being developed in some fashion by all major web companies.
It won’t be easy, but the companies who succeed at implementing personalization will benefit by having more engaged users and greater opportunities to display more focused advertisements. The key to success is properly balancing relevancy and privacy, a task that’s been problematic in the past.
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