Google and Facebook have grown up with very different philosophies and very different approaches to their businesses.
- Facebook is highly focused around a single property. Google casts a wide net, simultaneously developing a whole library of offerings (including public R&D “Labs” projects).
- Facebook regularly makes sudden changes to their service without giving users a chance to test them out first. Google regularly offers “previews” and extended trials.
- Google frequently kills off projects that don’t seem to be getting the proper traction. Facebook seems to only cancel programs if there is a particularly big gaff, or if they release a replacement.
- Facebook is the undisputed leader in social networks, with 750 million users and 7 years of experience. Google is the leader in search and web-based email, with a few social failures under its belt, a success in video-sharing, and 13 days of success in social networking.
So why do I say that Google “gets” social better than Facebook? It’s not because of any particular features in the new Google+. It’s because of the way I see Google itself using the nascent social network. Team members and product leads from various Google products are actively and aggressively using the social network to gather feedback and source ideas. I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe I have ever seen Facebook actively engage its users in the process of improving its products.
This is the key. It doesn’t matter how many geniuses Facebook can bankroll and put in a room (and we know Google has plenty of them on the payroll too), they will never be able to match the power of the crowd. Beyond that, when customers feel that they can have an impact on the products they use, you end up with a fan base full of evangelists, rather than just a group of users.