Google’s new social network Google+ is only a week old, and remains closed to the public in a field-testing phase. But it’s already become easy to see that Facebook now has a fierce competitor in the battle for social network supremacy. We’ve already taken you through the best and the worst of what Plus has to offer, so far. Now, it’s time to put Google+ and Facebook head-to-head in a feature showdown. Let the games begin.
Until Wednesday, the real-time communication functionalities of Google+ could beat Facebook’s meager offerings without breaking a sweat. But then Facebook announced built-in, Skype-powered video chat and group text chat, and the entire game changed.
Using the new one-on-one video chat feature, users can video-call each other directly from their profile pages (via a “call” button between the “message” and “poke” buttons). Obviously, we haven’t had much time to play around with the video chat feature just yet, but what we’ve seen so far looks quite solid.
Google+ also has video chat in the form of “Hangouts,” one of our favorite features. What Hangouts has that Facebook’s Skype video calling doesn’t is group-chat functionality. Facebook video calls are more like phone calls, whereas Hangouts are a video chat room in which up to 10 people can take part.
Though neither video calls nor group video chat are entirely new features, both are excellent additions to a social network. Yes, Hangouts are awesomely fun. But we have to give this round to Facebook, since one-on-one video calling will likely prove more popular and useful in the long run than group video chat, which is nothing if not novel. On top of that, Facebook’s offering comes with the excellent Skype infrastructure that’s sure to handle the massive number of users it’s about to receive. It remains to be seen whether Hangouts can hang with public-level use.
Both Facebook and Google+ allow users to post and share text, links, photos and video. But as a user experience, Facebook’s News Feed and the Google+ stream are two entirely different animals. Whereas Facebook curates the New Feed experience by delivering “Top News” — posts from people you connect with regularly that have generated conversation — the Stream focuses on what’s hot right now. Yes, Facebook also offers “Most Recent” posts, but those are annoyingly stowed a click away, with no way to make the latest updates feed a default setting.
There are good and bad aspects to both. While Facebook’s News Feed can often feel slow-paced and static compared to Plus’ Stream, the constantly-updating nature of the Stream (comments on Google+ appear instantly, in real-time, for instance) results in a near-endless string of posts you probably don’t care about, much like a heavily populated Twitter feed. Again, this is great for “breaking news” type scenarios, but it can make spending much time on the site feel a bit overwhelming, especially on particularly popular posts.
The one area Google+ has Facebook completely beat is in the sharing department. With the help of the “Circles” friend organization tool, posts on Plus can be shared with as few or as many of your contacts as you like, or even the public at large. On Facebook, whoever is a “friend” gets to see what you post — unless, of course, you go through the absurdly impractical process of placing your contacts into groups, and editing the privacy settings of each post you publish.
Though the high noise level on Google+ is obnoxious, it’s a well-known-enough issue that we have confidence in the Plus team fixing this before the network opens to the public. So as solid as Facebook’s News Feed is, we have to go with Google+ on this one.
It’s no secret: Facebook has a terrible track record when it comes to privacy. Its policy currently runs somewhere around 6,000 words, in language only a lawyer could love. Setting your profile so you’re not publishing your thoughts and actions for the entire world to see is frustratingly difficult. And if you’re not careful, one of your drunken party pictures could end up in a Facebook ad campaign seen by millions upon millions of people.
Unfortunately, Google+ does not allow anyone to have a completely private profile, while Facebook lets users make their account completely invisible, from the public or other Facebook users. This, however, is one of the few areas where Facebook instills trust in us. Overall, Google seems to have placed privacy at the core of Plus, which is a wise move, no matter how you look at it.