Published July 26, 2011
What ever happened to loyalty?
A shiny new social-networking site comes along and before you know it, we're all flirting with the frisky startup, leaving our dates back at the table to pay the check. At least, that's how it seems with Google+, the latest competition for our Facebook affections.
In just a few weeks, Google+ has enticed roughly 20 million people to join, according to Comscore. And that's before it's even officially debuted; you still have to be invited to go to this dance. Furthermore, while the service is still in pre-release mode, many of us using it have found it to already be simpler, slicker, and generally better at the social-networking waltz than Facebook (and it always lets you lead).
Uber-venture capitalist Roger McNamee of Elevation Partners recently argued that the social network war was over.
"The last 500 social companies funded by the venture capital community are all worthless," McNamee said during a presentation to a crowd of media types. As far as McNamee is concerned, the social platform has been established, and it's Facebook. He may be right. He has nearly 30 years experience investing in tech, including an early bet on Facebook. And Facebook, according to the company's own tally, has 750 million members.
Plenty of people have offered excellent reasons for abandoning Facebook, however. Some of my FB friends have already switched because changing networks is as simple as a mouse click, and there's no exit cost whatsoever -- indeed there may be several benefits.
Many FB friends, for example, would rather switch than fight Facebook's ever-evolving privacy settings. Purposively convoluted, Facebook's pages of inscrutably marked multiple boxes have made it about as friendly as Windows Millennium Edition. So one day your chat line is closed, the next you're open online for everyone to see. It's created Facebook fatigue.
Then there's the grandma factor: If everyone is on Facebook, not only is it no longer cool but it also means I can't say anything without fear of retribution -- or being outed for playing beer pong by my boss or mom.
That's no fun at all, and Google+ at least makes it easier to compartmentalize friends, acquaintances, and business associates (unlike Facebook's lists, which are a pain in the you-know-what). Some Google+ members are even creating "frenemy" circles (now there's an idea that's bound to get you in trouble).
There are two other important undercurrents to the rising tide boosting Google+: momentum and the nature of social circles.
The first issue looks ominous for Facebook when one looks back at the fall of MySpace. The switch from MySpace to Facebook seemed predicated on a number of factors. There was the sheer clutter of MySpace, which looked like something out of an early GeoCities blog. It became a blinking, flashing, honking mess. And Facebook connected people and conversations more seamlessly.
Perhaps more critical was the sheer momentum of Facebook as it picked up speed, sucking in more and more friends until it became an irresistible social vortex. Now, Google+ looks poised to possibly do the same to Facebook, draining away members and eyeballs.
The second point is a lesson about social behavior. Switching from one network to another may just be an inevitable part of our social habits. Every once in a while, we simply need a change. No one can eat the same meal every day, and we can't visit the same bar or coffee shop every day without getting bored. Some folks have been on Facebook for nearly 7 years; that's a long time to be hanging out at the same watering hole. And what is it they say about the 7-year itch?
So switching social circles may be preordained. And Google+ is simply the next hot hangout.