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Why Facebook and Google+ are headed in opposite directions

Facebook is spinning out new products while Google is integrating. But these opposite directions are leading to the same place.

January 25, 2014 07:15 AM ET

Computerworld - Social sites Facebook and Google+ have completely different strategies for attracting and keeping social networking users. But why?

The reason is that each social network is coming from -- and going to -- a completely different place.

We categorize things weirdly in this business. We lump giant, massively featured, multi-purpose do-everything-for-everybody sites like Facebook and Google+ in with tiny, narrow, single-purpose sites like Instagram or Twitter into the same category because they're all "social." It's like comparing a car with a skateboard because they're both "transportation."

In reality, there are only two major all-purpose social sites: Facebook and Google+. A GlobalWebIndex study published this week found pretty much what you'd expect: Facebook is much larger, but shrinking (losing 3% in the second half of last year), and Google+ is smaller but growing (gaining 6% in the same period). Google+ has roughly half the active user base of Facebook, according to the report.

Yet these two sites are embracing opposite strategies for the future. Specifically, Facebook is an integrated social network that is trying to become many different products, and Google offers many different products that it's trying to integrate into a single social network.

The reason for such opposing strategies is that the problems, constraints and opportunities for each company are completely different.

Why Facebook is turning one into many

Facebook started out as a single product. By this time next year, Facebook may total more than a dozen products.

Already, Facebook has spun out Messenger, which provides simple messaging; Camera, an alternative to your camera's photo app; Poke, a Snapchat-like app; and Home, which updates the main interface for some Android phones with additional messaging and photo options. Facebook also acquired Instagram, which is kept as a separate product.

Facebook is also expected to launch in the next week a new product called "Paper" (and internally code-named as "Project Reader"), which has been described as a Flipboard-like news reading app or web site (or both).

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has hinted at more separate products coming soon.

Another departure from keeping everything inside Facebook.com is the extension of Facebook ads to non-Facebook apps. The company said this week that it's testing the use of Facebooks ad infrastructure, sales features and social signals to deliver targeted ads on apps that are not otherwise associated with Facebook.

The idea is that ads would appear on ad-supported apps without being identified as coming from the Facebook ad network. But the ads would theoretically be more relevant to users, because each user's Facebook profile would affect the choice of advertising content.

From a user point of view, these ads are not a "product." But for advertisers, they are.

So why does Facebook want to turn its one social network product into many social products?

The answer is that Facebook is faced with a constant bleeding of users who are overwhelmed by the noise and complexity of Facebook.com. Or, users leave because they feel overexposed by Facebook's hyper-sharing, crowded social environment.



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