Facebook vs Google+: What's the best social network?

With more than 800 million users, including 150 million in the U.S., Facebook is a must-have for connecting online. With a "mere" 90 million users so far, Google+ can't be a replacement for Facebook. But with great design and unique features, it makes a good addition. In fact, in a lot of ways Google+ is better.

Design  Google+ has simple and consistent navigation that even carries over to the mobile app (more on that later). A five-button menu bar at the top of each page links to the five main sections: Home, Photos, Profile, Circles (friend groups) and Games.

Like Facebook, Google+ has a Home page dominated by a stream of detailed status updates from friends. All the tools—such as filtering updates by Circle or starting up a chat—live in a narrow left-hand column.

Facebook’s left column is cluttered not only with friend lists and chat tools, but also links to other sections, such as messages, events, groups and apps. Its Timeline profile page presents a fascinating chronology of the user’s life via status updates, photos, events and affiliations with schools or jobs. Winner: Google+

Posting  Both Google+ and Facebook provide easy ways to share the right info with the right people. The basic method is the same. Type something and/or click to select media, such as a photo. Then decide who sees it: Both networks make that easy with drop-down lists of friend groups that users have created.

Facebook’s cool special features include allowing people, using the Timeline view, to tag an update as a specific life event, with icons such as “Family & Relationships” or “Travel & Experiences.” Winner: Draw

Sharing Media  With a madly growing trove of photos and videos (at the moment about 140 billion photos alone), Facebook is a must-post location. Facebook allows sharing pictures up to 960 x 720 pixels, about seven-tenths of a megapixel. That’s fine for viewing online, but not for archiving high-quality copies. Videos can run up to 20 minuets and the entry-level 720p HD resolution

Google+ takes photos up to about four megapixels. It can also link to pictures on Google’s photo-sharing site, Picasa, where image size is unlimited. Videos play up to 15 minutes and at quality up to the the maximum HD resolution, 1080p, Winner: Google+

Managing Friends  With both Facebook and Google+, filtering the audience is pretty easy using lists. In Facebook, simply clicking on a Friend list brings up the news feeds for everyone in the group. A “Manage Lists” button on the top right of the page allows filtering what shows up (status, photos, game updates…) as well as adding or removing list members. Google+ uses friend lists called Circles that work pretty much the same way.

Facebook provides a jumpstart by automatically creating “Smart Lists”—with groupings for friends who went to the same school, worked at the same job or even live in the same city, for example. Google+ doesn't suggest Circle groupings. Winner: Facebook

Following People  Approaching 1 billion members, Facebook has a lot of interesting people who can't all be friends. As with Twitter, Facebook allows users to follow posts from can't all be actual “friends.” But users can subscribe to feeds of anyone's public status updates. All those followed-but-not-friended people appear in a single list called “Subscriptions.”

On Google+ a user can also follow anyone but also file them in multiple Circles. Winner: Google+

Messaging, Chat and Video  In messaging and chat, Facebook and Google+ are nearly identical: Just pick a name and type.

Both offer video calling. In Google+ It can be an add-on for a one-to-one chat, but it’s also for groups. Any friend in a Circle, or on any ad-hoc list, can accept an invite to a Hangout—where everyone sees everyone else at the same time. Winner: Google+

Entertainment  Facebook offers a trove addictive games such as “Gardens of Time,” “The Sims Social” and “Cityville” (the top three for 2011). And major music services such as Spotify and Rdio pump the name of songs that users listen to right into the status updates to show off musical tastes.

Google+ is currently offers only about 30 games, though it says many more are coming from publishers including EA, Playfish and Zynga. The only entertainment updates it shares are what someone watches on YouTube or listens to on Google Music. Winner: Facebook

Mobile  Both networks offer similar iPhone and Android phone apps. As on the web, Google+ is easier to navigate: low-fi icons on a Google-esque white home page link to most of the same key sections on the website, such as Circles, Photos and Profile.

Extras include group messaging and, on the Android version, automatic photo upload to a private online album. But Google+ doesn’t yet have apps for iPads or Android tablets.

Facebook opens to the basic news feed, with buttons for posting status updates and checking messages. The gory details are revealed only by clicking a button that opens a massive left-side menu with items including Timeline view, events, friend lists, groups, chat and many others. The iPad app is virtually identical. Winner: Google+

Overall Winner  Good design goes a long way. Together with a fresh perspective on how people socialize in groups, Google+ dominated this contest. But that’s only for the features that the two networks have in common. There are plenty, such as events, that Google doesn’t even offer. Facebook is also a better choice for entertainment, such as games and sharing music. Google+ will undoubtedly grow in both features and users. The service is more than promising enough to keep as an alternative alongside Facebook.

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