Can Facebook and Google+ coexist?

The two Internet giants are going head-to-head in a social networking battle, but cooperation could be the key to their survival

Like oil and water, or peanut butter and jelly? Google+, the search giant's new social network, has everyone in the tech industry speculating about whether it's "the Facebook killer."

The death of MySpace seems to prove that people have room in their lives for only one social network, one profile page. After all, how many different places do you need to announce your favorite TV shows? How many different places do you need to share your witty thoughts?

On the other hand, Twitter proved that "social" can come in different forms -- and 140 characters is more appropriate for some witty thoughts than for others. Twitter also allows users to link certain posts to their Facebook page if they wish, meaning that if the social networks could restrain themselves from treating social networking as a zero-sum game, everyone might win.

[See also: Computerworld's continuing coverage of Google+, Facebook]

Of course, Google and Facebook haven't played nice lately, and they probably won't now. Google has tried to index public Facebook pages for its searches, inciting the ire of Facebook, which earlier this year hired a PR company to pitch Google-negative stories to the press. And Facebook's recent partnering with Skype to compete with Google+'s Hangouts suggests that each Internet giant has the other in its cross-hairs.

Theory 1: They can coexist independently

Though all-out war between the two companies seems imminent (if it hasn't already begun), Google's executive chairman (and former CEO as of this April), Eric Schmidt, thinks that there's more than enough room for the two companies to exist independently. According to a July 7 Reuter's article, Schmidt said that Google+ will succeed just as Facebook and Twitter have because demand for entry into Google+ is high, and because Hangouts -- Google's multiperson video chat feature -- is very popular with younger users.

The response is a familiar one from Schmidt, who told 60 Minutes back in 2005 that Google believed it could coexist with Microsoft's relatively new Bing search client.

Because of Google's size and search accuracy, the company never seems to break a sweat in public, insisting that identical services can exist in tandem. But that talk might just be a PR ploy: Google and Microsoft do compete head-to-head for search advertising dollars, just as Facebook and Google+ will in the social network arena. In June, the Federal Trade Commission launched an antitrust probe into Google's dealings, concerned that the company may exercise too much control over what we see on the Web.

Despite their face-off, both Google and Facebook have massive user bases (and a massive potential user base in the case of Google+), so it's entirely likely that the two can and will coexist. Smaller companies such as LiveChat, which builds software for companies to offer customer service through video chat, are expecting both social networks to succeed and thrive and are strategizing accordingly. Mariusz Cieply, the CEO of LiveChat, says that his company hopes to offer its services through both Facebook and Google+ in the near future, so that companies can, for example, provide post-sales tech support through video over Facebook or Google Hangouts. "It will be great to have both Facebook and Google Plus," Cieply says. "We will start with Facebook first, but we see a huge opportunity with Google Hangouts."

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