Google Plus’s Real Goal is Not to Kill Facebook, but to Force it to Open

I’ve been so focused on the user experience of Google’s new social network Plus that I haven’t thought very much about the big picture, I must admit. Listening tonight to an interview with Plus designer Joseph Smarr on the IEEE Podcast it became clear to me that for at least some of Plus’s leadership the goal is not to win social networking outright, or to kill any competitors, but to disrupt the social networking economy with a big enough, good enough and popular enough service that the walled gardens (Facebook in particular) are forced to open up interoperability enough that their users can communicate with the significant enough number of people in their lives that use a different social network. Back in the bad old days, customers of one phone network couldn’t call customers of other phone networks, then people couldn’t email out-of-network. Today people can’t be social across networks, but few people mind because everyone they care about is on Facebook. Plus is a big push to change that. Interoperability will be better for the open web and thus better for Google. It should also be better for consumer choice and satisfaction, in the long run. As long as Face-oogling or whatever doesn’t become as frustrating in the future as dealing with phone companies is today. But they do have interoperability!

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it this way before. I hope the plan works. One more cool thing about Plus.

I’d post a link to my Plus profile here but I wrote this whole post on my phone, sitting on the sidewalk in front of my house, in the dark. (Cutting sod that’s grown over my walkway.) I’m not hard to find there though and am lots of fun to talk to, I promise.


  • I believe that Chrome had/has a similar strategy in the browser space. Not to open them in that case, but to force them to innovate on speed, web apps etc.

    In this sense, and as part of this strategy, G+ is a worthy effort.

  • nice thoughts marshall. sounds like a perfect nite to me dude.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a clever perspective. I don’t think Google is all good and 100% “no evil” (it’s a huge corporation, after all) but I am very happy with anything that keeps the web open. And I am really enjoying Google+.

  • It could make sense since they are doing similar things with turn by turn navigation, DNS and fiber. However all these products (chrome included) were superior when launched (or when offered in case of fiber). G+ isn’t superior and therefore not really forcing any competitors to change. So I am wondering what they will do to create an impact so others will have to change.

  • Deane T Rimerman

    Sod Cutter Post… Interesting how your garden toils so often lead to a web-post epiphany? Happy Summer Marshall!!!


    PPS: long live Sponge Bob SquarePants!

  • Martha

    Very good points. It is naive to think that one social network will “defeat” another – it is about providing what people want when they want it. Meeting the immediate and longer term need. Openness is what people need now that these fabulous systems are available. If there was better communication across networks, what a wonderful world it would be.

  • Anonymous

    Positively disruptive. I like that.

  • Add to your Google+ Home Page Podcasts radios TV YouTube videos

  • doesn’t matter if g+ or facebook is superior, if g+ gains traction, then facebook will be forced to open

  • Pretty believable theory especially when thought of in line with Google’s founding mission statement that includes “make universally accessible and useful”. Information locked away in Facebook’s coffers is useless (outside of FB) and not universally accessible!

    It’s certainly not without precedent, for example, Richard Branson’s business strategy of opening challenging companies in industries and countries where there is a little “fat” in the market. Or Australian Democrat Don Chipp when he said that his political party’s purpose was to “keep the bastards honest”.

    Good association Marshall, gardening really is a time for thinking. 🙂

  • Pretty believable theory especially when thought of in line with Google’s founding mission statement that includes “make universally accessible and useful”. Information locked away in Facebook’s coffers is useless (outside of FB) and not universally accessible!

    It’s certainly not without precedent, for example, Richard Branson’s business strategy of opening challenging companies in industries and countries where there is a little “fat” in the market. Or Australian Democrat Don Chipp when he said that his political party’s purpose was to “keep the bastards honest”.

    Good association Marshall, gardening really is a time for thinking. 🙂

  • I don’t agree with you. I think Google is trying:
    1) to improve PageRank by feeding social “sharing” data (+1 & knowing what links are posted to profiles and how many people click them)
    2) make AdWords more click-able by putting them in a social context.

  • WOW i like this idea !

  • Happy thoughts Marshall, I hope it works.

  • It’s unreasonable to think that Google doesn’t have strategic plans behind this, they need to find new ways to make money, but it’s still believable that *among* their goals is to force Facebook to open up, and even if it isn’t … G+ is going to have that effect anyways.

  • Realistically, it’s not naive at all, Facebook has effectively “defeated” myspace, the once only dominante social network just sold for a silly $35 millions, about the worth of a fraction of Facebook co-founders shares, but it’s naive _now_ to think that in order for G+ to make it, Facebook has to lose, because whenever there are 2+ equally capable competing parties, it’s up to the consumers to decide which will they use, and that will eventually force all parties to be open, which is -I agree- wonderful!

  • Only target of G+ is to take souls from Facebook to have broader base for ads(and to test ad targeting algorithms). You can then push very precise ads to users with more $ for click/view based on their: search history, location, social graph, interests(This is role of “Sparks”). AdWords works when you need something, you are searching for it.Pushed ads are for people that do not realize that they need something. And G+ ads will be very precise, highly clickable and expensive. They could put Groupon off of the market. So stake is high, if by the time, Facebook will be more open, well, who cares.

  • There’s a fascinating account of the Google Plus inside story on Wired UK, a must read-
    One of the quotes from Google… “So when I share on Facebook, I overshare. On Twitter, I undershare, because it’s public. If Google hits that spot in the middle, we can revolutionise social interaction.”

    I agree that if Facebook opens up more, then Google Search can subsume its content and that weakens Facebook’s native ecosystem. But Facebook won’t cave in that easily unless they start to lose ground.

  • Leonel

    Interesting if true. I must admit, the folks over at managed to do a great job of allowing users to interoperate between all these different networking sites. Personally, I’m waiting until I can post to both Facebook and Google+ at the same time.

    Although I must admit: I am really liking the Google+ mobile interface. Simple and sleek. If interoperability is Google’s goal, then it will be interesting to see if they come up with a good alternative to I’d place bets on if they had any desire to fix their iGoogle gadget.

  • Leonel

    One thing is certain: Facebook should learn from the simplicity of the G+ mobile interface. Otherwise they may become known as the Microsoft of the social networking world. Look at how Windows Mobile (aka desktop Windows ported to smartphones) morphed into Windows Phone.

    The Facebook Mobile experience has become quite horrible. It used to be much simpler. Not a fan anymore, now that I’ve played around with G+. Here’s hoping G+ won’t change their mobile app, much like Facebook has..

  • Leonel

    Hmmm.. I love this and will need to read that Wired UK article. The quote hits it spot on. Precisely why I have multiple accounts, well, everywhere.. a mixture of both public and private.

    Would be great if public Google+ posts could go to my public Twitter account, and posts to the Google+ Friends circle could automatically go to my private Facebook, Twitter, etc. accounts. Or.. even better.. have some form of integration into

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree – unlike Facebook, Twitter, etc., Google benefits financially from an open internet, where they can consume information generated from as many sources as possible.

    In fact, if G+ “wins” over Facebook (which I don’t think is likely), Google will actually lose in the end – invariably, someone else will come along and be better than G+, rinse, repeat.

    However, if G+ forces Facebook to open up and social networking becomes one big network, Google wins in the long-haul. However – how much would G+ have to stir the pot before Facebook opens up?

  • I’m sure Facebook team has now longest hackathon ever. They know everything that should be changed to compete with G+. It is only matter of time.

  • Leonel

    And a reliable posts via email. Not a good time for this to break over at They are losing out on a good opportunity – not to mention traffic from G+. I wonder how many people are trying to post to their email addresses now.. 😉

  • Leonel

    Unless of course, it is broken for a reason? Hmm.. there’s a thought..

  • or to shutdown itself..another epic failure in making check out this web comic on G+

  • I’m not sure Google can ‘force’ Facebook to do anything, but as with IM a few years back open networks will survive, closed networks will fade. Google+ isn’t exactly open itself, however – at least not yet.

  • More likely, they are looking to kill Facebook ad revenue

  • Bob Meese

    I agree with Joseph Smarr. Here’s a post I wrote the day after G+ launch that has a similar perspective:

  • You make it sound like it’s a bad thing that Google is gonna be making money off of this, and that marketers would have a better and more efficient way to reach their consumers …

    Facebook is making huge money too, you know, it’s only natural that companies want to increase their income, the real question is whether their services provide value for their consumers, and in this case, both companies’ services do.

    Bottom line, if Google wants to buy my clicks on their ads with a beautiful, highly usable product, then I’m sold … isn’t that how humans used to conduct business? or am I the only person here who thinks that making good products and aiming for big money out of it is not wrong?

  • Grant

    If you’re correct, then Google just spent a shitload of money just to make a statement/issue a change. Also, I’d like to point out that products don’t kill other products. Products kill themselves because they don’t address the market’s needs.

  • But…there aren’t significant other people in their lives using a “different” social network. Um, Myspace? Get real?!

    Actually, I can see how it isn’t about Google forcing Facebook to open, and it isn’t about Google being more closed than FB because of different circles, but because of the struggle of some power Googlian+ folks to demand that they be able to make public statements, but still block some circles from seeing them. Then Google will be more smug and elitist than Facebook, with influencers wanting to influence the general public, but get that “block track” that Steve Gillmor has dreamed of since the early days of Twitter. I’ve always warned of this as detrimental to a civil society.

  • This would be great – especially if developers can find a way to start integrating. Because Google is really good at providing a great product that you don’t have to force everyone to use and I think that’s why gmail worked so well. You don’t need all of your friends to use the same email program. I really want to integrate FB into plus because I would much rather use the plus interface and cut down on some of FB’s noise. I would also like, say, to use google calendar as my interface for FB events and brithdays and have it actually work.

  • Liz Pullen

    I don’t like thinking of my personal status updates and photos (i.e., my Facebook content) as being “universally accessible and useful.” Useful to who? I’m only concerned about the people & groups I choose to communicate with.

    I realize that Facebook will show targeted ads at users but I really don’t want my Facebook conversations to be useful to commercial interests outside of the companies I’ve chosen to have contact with through their Facebook pages. Eliminating privacy controls is like having a wiretap on your phone.

    If any company forced Facebook to become “more open”, I know that I, and many others, would simply delete our accounts. In my extended family, I was only able to convince my relatives to create Facebook accounts with the guarantee that they could control access & set privacy levels. And there are still some individuals who don’t trust Facebook to keep their friendship circles closed.

  • Liz Pullen

    And I’m fully aware that Google uses my search history to show me targeted advertising as well and, in that sense, uses the information I provide. But I believe that this isn’t attached to my personal identity or kept as stored information.

  • I totally agree. The pie is big enough for everyone to be successful.

  • Aren’t we really talking about the same thing? Perhaps it’s the Facebook equivalent of getting companies like Foursquare to educate them for their own equivalent, Zynga to hold them to ransom or acquisition in the case of Friendfeed to take them out of the game. Google is simply bashing the bushes to get the fox out into the open so it can take aim with its much bigger gun. And were the roles reversed, then Facebook would do exactly the same thing…

  • thanks Andrew!

  • Fractured.
    Posted at +Chris Saad’s thinking it was your G+ post.
    Clicked the link he had provided.
    Found myself here.
    /me checks for good old fashion HTML

    I doubt that a more open FB ever figured in the team’s list of aims and goals.

  • Varun Jain

    Google Is Not Just ABout Adds and Money
    Google Is About Technology
    Its About Innovation
    Google Chrome
    Chrome OS
    These Are Few Of Its Huge Contribution To Web
    Infact Have You Ever Checked Out The Labs In Ur Gmail
    Have A Look You Will Get To Know Much More..

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  • jss

    truth cannot be further

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I’m amazed Apple haven’t commenced litigation against Given that they’re injunctioning and patent trolling everyone else. I suppose hasn’t shown itself to be a threat yet…

  • Full interoperability between social networks is an ideal goal, and I hope it happens. I would like to be able to host my “social” presence from my own web site, and still be able to interact with my “friends” on other sites. I can do that today but the other sites do not include Facebook.

  • You forgot Android.

  • Here is another way of opening up FB

  • Nice vision. Let’s hope one day it will get close to (or even turn into) reality.

  • Nice vision. Let’s hope one day it will get close to (or even turn into) reality.

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