This past week, both Google and Facebook made more announcements regarding their ecosystems. Google is slowly integrating Google+ into everything, this time adding features into GMail and Contacts. For GMail, you can now share photos directly from within a message. Contacts are now showing your Google+ circles as additional groups. Facebook launched a new subscribe button for websites. This new button is similar to the Like button:
The Subscribe button for websites works just like the button on Facebook; once clicked the user will begin seeing the public posts of the person they have subscribed to in his or her News Feed. The subscribe action is also shared — allowing others to subscribe directly via the News Feed stories, and further increasing viral distribution.
So, the subscribe button is Like 2.0, where they added “frictionless sharing” to the original Like button. By themselves, these two announcements seem like basic iterations of various product features. However, you need to look at these posts within the larger scheme of things.
Google is integrating Google+ with all of its products. Some people did not think adding a “social layer” on top of the applications would be a good thing, but we are being proven otherwise. The idea is very similar to the frictionless sharing that Facebook has been talking about. Being able to quickly +1 and share from other Google sites, like YouTube, and within GMail means that more activity can be generated easily.
Facebook is learning that the simple Like is not quite good enough. Sharing is the main way content goes viral. So changing the way Likes work, and making things move towards a full share helps with “viral distribution”. Obviously, making sharing easier would be a huge win for Facebook if users can control what content is shared with what people.
However, there are problems with both systems. Facebook has a huge user population. But the user sharing control is not entirely seamless. Groups and selective sharing are not really core to the functionality, but add-ons. Facebook users are also not used to sharing with groups as much as just sharing with people that are friends. Google does not have as many users, and has had its own share of privacy issues. However, their selective sharing circles have been baked into everything. So, once you started using Google+ you were always using Circles. But Google+ is not without problems. Business pages are still evolving after a very shaky start.
Both systems are providing frictionless sharing, while giving users some control over who sees what content. So, which system should you choose as a user and as a business, blog or website? Obviously, the answer is both, but whether either system wins comes down to how the integration points really work. The integration points are things like the plugins for websites and blogs, developer APIs to help build an ecosystem of third party applications, and the mobile platforms.
Website and blog plugins exist for both systems and only provide minimal integration. Third party applications and mobile platforms are where the systems can really try to differentiate themselves. Facebook’s API platform has existed for a longer time, and social gaming has really grown rapidly. Google+ is still developing their API, which has some glaring holes, but they started their platform push with social gaming in an effort to jumpstart development activity.
The difference may be found in the mobile platforms. Facebook has a solid API and some mobile applications. On the other side, Google has Android and its tight integration with all things Google. This could be a huge advantage for Google as the mobile industry, as well as Android adoption, is exploding. Google+ even has a very nice mobile application.
The APIs may be a large part of luring developers, but even developers want to get paid. Monetization will be a huge question when choosing between the platforms. Google has a history of trying to be more developer friendly than their competition, or at least not as controlling as their competitors. Facebook has already shown that developers can monetize the Facebook platform, with Zynga being the poster boy for Facebook monetization.
Will developers choose the winner, or will a huge existing user population choose the winner? Will ease of monetization point to a winner or will mobile integration be the key? Do we really need a winner or will these two behemoths decide to provide integration across the platforms?