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.

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When users leave Facebook, they usually go to single-purpose sites, such as Snapchat, Instagram or Tumblr, or even a messaging app. They do that because they feel more in control of their "social graphs," as Facebook calls them, and their sharing. Single-purpose apps feel intimate.

So Facebook no doubt wants to give people single-purpose social apps to flee to. That's why they spun out Messenger, created Poke and acquired Instagram. Because if people are going to move to single-purpose social services, at least they can be Facebook's.

Facebook also wants "shelf space." One of the reasons retail products often come in boxes that are too big for the product is that companies want to take up as much space in the store as possible so the customer notices the product. Facebook no doubt wants mobile users to have lots of Facebook apps to maintain mindshare.

Why Google is turning many into one

Google, on the other hand, has a very different set of challenges. Google has long been in the "everything" business, from search engines, cloud email services and blogging services to self-driving cars and smart contact lenses.

Google is really in the business of big data. They specialize in making sense of massive data sets. Even simple acts like searching for a good slice of pizza on Google Search lights up supercomputers marshaling data like location, search history, the preferences of friends, and map data that includes real-time traffic information.

The more data Google can throw at every user experience, the better that experience can be and the harder it is for competitors to duplicate that experience.

So Google's aggressive "integration" of Google services into Google+, and integration of Google+ into other Google services, is really about moving toward a world in which Google has more user data available to optimize every interaction.

These integrations are really about adding a colossal set of social data, as well as identity data, to every possible Google site.

Google is building a set of online services that will make it feel like you have an invisible entourage guiding and helping and protecting you all day. It will be like you have a concierge, personal secretary, staff of researchers and other helpers with you wherever you go. Oh, and a driver, too. This entourage effect is being created with Google Now, but also many other Google products.

If you had such an entourage of helpers, they would need to know who your spouse, family and friends are -- who to let in and who to keep out. They would know your preferences and interests, and would help you pursue them. That's what Google+ and the so-called Google social layer is all about: letting your entourage know all about the people in your life so they can help you better.

So it's not really about unifying everything with Google+, but about integrating powerful social and identity data into the mix of behavioral, temporal, location and other data to make everything more relevant and tailored to every situation you find yourself in.

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