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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

G+ vs Facebook vs Twitter. The numbers don't help.

Robert Scoble wrote a piece today in response to an article by Richard McManus of Read Write Web.

In that post Robert made some interesting points about why the tech press are quick to criticise engagement levels on Google Plus compared to the two biggest social networks, Facebook and Twitter. McManus bleats about Vic Gondotra refusing to release activity metrics for G+ users and laments that without such numbers no meaningful comparison can be made between it and the others. Robert responds with some discussion about the comparative usage rates and says "I don't think the numbers are all that good if you compare to Twitter or Facebook".

(I should say, Robert went on to make some very salient points about why McManus and his ilk just don't, and maybe won't, get it. And why that really doesn't matter.)

I think Robert and Richard are both mistaken to some degree when they draw any numerical comparison between the three products because each platform is its own thing serving its own market segment. They overlap, of course, but Facebook, Twitter and G+ are very different products that really shouldn't be compared on user numbers and post counts alone because their communities use them for very different purposes.

Facebook's (former) synchronous user relationship model has created a community who interact mostly with people they know outside of Facebook. Before you can interact with another user they have to grant you access to their content and most people will do so only for people they know - yes, not everyone's friends list is created on that basis but the model encourages it to work that way so the majority of people's friends will be known to them.

As a consequence, Facebook users congregate around their relationships.

Twitter, on the other hand, is little more than an echo chamber. As Robert has pointed out, Twitter is not a place for group conversations, it's more like a box to stand on down at Speakers' Corner where everybody's talking and nobody's listening.

Twitter is a megaphone.

Google Plus is a different beast again. Its early adopters and invitees were geeks, photographers and tech evangelists who in turn invited people who share their interests. It may be a little more complex than that, but for whatever reason, Google Plus has become less of a social network and more of a content sharing platform. G+ users congregate not around their pre-existing relationships, but around content and topics. It's used by some people to shout out their current location, or to ask for help with the latest iOS update, but most of the content in people's streams is more thoughtful and creative than that.

Google Plus is not a social network, it's a content sharing platform with a social element.

And this is why Robert to a small degree, and Richard to a much larger degree, are mistaken when they even try to draw comparisons between the three networks based on numbers.

If you follow more than a hundred or so random people on Twitter I challenge you to make any sense of your Twitter stream as the most obscure Tweets fly past containing American Idol votes, radio station competition entries, comments to live TV shows and the odd left-wing extremist political rant.

Facebook's total daily activity contains a lot of very good long-form content, but how much of the total is status updates, birthday party invitations and conversations with your mother?

The G+ community has a very different use for their platform. As I see it, there are content creators and content consumers on G+. The creators are the active minority who share their creations, thoughts and opinions to an audience of both active and passive others. The active ones comment or post their own content in response, while the passive audience just enjoy what comes to them.

The majority of all people worldwide are content consumers, not creators. By extrapolation, the same should apply to the G+ community. Therefore, while McManus is looking for active users, and comparing G+'s number to Facebook or Twitter, he's missing the primary difference between G+ and the others. G+ users may post less, but I'll wager they consume much much more. And that's just fine with Google because they will want to advertise to consumers of content.

Google Plus has yet to realise its potential, it's easy to forget it's only a few months old, but it will eventually settle into its position in the market place alongside Facebook and Twitter. Each platform will provide a different service to overlapping user populations and all three will co-exist.

Until Twitter collapses, but that's another story.


  1. Nice, they now need to change the comment section to that of G+ or Disqus, either-way, liked the read, keep it up.

  2. **Golf Clap** Well done Damien. It took me about two weeks to realize this was not a Facebook replacement and realized it was going to be a beast all it's own and am very happy to participate here. I consume here more than I create but do enjoy the engagement on both sides. I intentionally have to keep myself away sometimes simply because there is so much going on. The pace G+ sets makes my FB account appear to stand still.

  3. The thing is, if it was going to be about the Interest Graph all along, then all of the "Real Names" posturing wasn't necessary. Not even for one second. I don't need to know your real name to discuss common interests like #photog, or whatever.

    P.S. using this comment to test out the new G+/Blogger integration, seems nice so far.

  4. Actually here a question how many Inactive Accounts on Facebook & twitter as I have never seen their figures

  5. Yet G+ still centers around individuals. I wanted to use this for work, but failed because there was no way to focus on the content. The stream view is very badly suited for heterogeneous content/topics. It works for Flickr but also only partly. As soon as you mix landscape and portraits you wished to have 2 streams. G+ has not solved this problem.