Amanda Orr on The Social Media Wars

For a few years now the landscape of social media hasn’t been known for its variety in terrain.  Myspace has become primarily a destination for music and not much else, and Friendster has turned into an online gaming site.  Which, of course, left the only real landmark, the world-conquering time-waster known as Facebook.  That is, right up until earlier this week.  Google + opened to the public several days ago, and those of us not privy to a beta invite can now enter and explore what some claim to be a serious competitor to Zuckerberg and Co.  In my opinion, there’s a problem viewing the two companies as a winner/loser scenario, since there’s more than enough room in the market for both of them to thrive.

So you’ve signed up for Google + for the first time, what do you see? Maybe you have one or two friends actively posting, or perhaps you have a whole lot of nothing. You become turned off, sign out, and head back over to Facebook, never to return to what is the perceived wasteland of Google’s newest venture into the social media market.  This would be a mistake.  Google + is a network that demands more of you than Facebook, more than just passive scrolling through the minutiae of your friends description of his or her breakfast.  It takes your interests and can connect you with people that are leaders in their field of that medium, and separates those interests into “circles” of people that you have complete control over in regards to privacy.  Google + has content you may actually be interested in, but it does require you invest some time into letting it get to know you a little better.  And of course, the search engine integration potential is unsurpassed, it’s ability to connect you to people and ideas incomparable to that of Facebook.  But will it crush Zuckerburg?  No, probably not.

Over at Facebook, they’ve been working quietly behind the scenes making some big changes of their own.  The new profile overhaul A.K.A. “timeline” is a user friendly way for you to keep family and friends informed on your activities, and the new design is much more aesthetically pleasing. The problem though, is something that has plagued Facebook since their inception – the issue of privacy.  The new ticker changes mean everybody can see what you post, both friends AND subscribers.  Then of course there’s the issue of browsing offsite while still logged into Facebook and having people informed of the sites you’ve visited, whether you want them to know about your activities or not.  Google is set up to control personal privacy settings from the beginning – you can set posts to be visible to any number of combinations of people, but unless you’ve been one of the few to already have done it, you’ll need to start to put Facebook’s relatively new “lists” system into play.  In spite of these issues though, Timeline has the potential to completely change how we present ourselves online – how we share. It’s not quite the Facebook of the past, but it is an exciting new way of sharing our lives. But will it cause Google + to wither and fade away like it’s recent ventures “Wave” and “buzz”?  I don’t think it will.

One can’t help but feel that these changes at Facebook wouldn’t have been spurred on had it not been for G+’s entrance into the landscape.  But I think that’s just it – Facebook promotes the growth of G+ and vice versa.  The similarities are there of course  – the +1 and the like button, the spark and the RSS feed – even the site layouts have their consistencies.  But, spending some time with a G+ account or the new timeline feed of Facebook really does make it clear they’re wildly different networks.

It’s an exciting time in the world of social media, with the public open of Google +, users have finally been given a viable alternative to Facebook while promoting the growth of both companies and social media as a whole.  So the question is – are you going to join both?  Which one works best for you?  They’re skewed to entirely different demographics at the moment, with Facebook focused on those below 30 and over 50 and G+ right in between at the 30-50 range.   But overall, both offer completely different things.  Those looking to Google + for a “better” version of Facebook will be disappointed, which is why you need to look at them as separate entities.  I don’t predict one will surpass the other – I think they both have a place in social media – it’s just up to you to figure out what the place will be.

Amanda Orr is a music geek, social media aficionado and radio broadcaster from Toronto, Ontario. When not catching up on the latest music, Amanda can be found kicking ass and taking names in a video game or baking a tasty cake.

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