According to a new report from BrightEdge Research, Google's "+1" button is already more popular online than the Twitter Share and Instant Follow buttons added together, all within about a week of availability. In other words, Plus could unseat Twitter, setting its sights on Facebook. But sharing is a different experience on Plus than on Twitter, and that matters a lot.
BrightEdge's stats show that of the websites it analyzed, 4.5% have +1 buttons (which have actually been available before Google+ itself was), whereas Twitter buttons only show up on 3.4% of sites—2.1% have Share, 1.3% have Instant Follow. Facebook still dominates with the Like button (and other Facebook interconnects) showing on 10.8% of websites, proving Google still has a way to go. But the fuss is all about how Twitter may be sweating it—particularly since Plus is still in a semi-closed beta test mode, and hasn't opened its floodgates to the general public yet.
Twitter should be worried, but just a little. There was a similar amount of fuss about Google Wave and Buzz when they hit, particularly among the technology press—but it didn't translate into long-term support, as the general public shied away.
The use cases for Twitter are also pretty sophisticated now, and seem to differ from the way Google+ works—which impacts on the significance of the number of "+1" buttons. Sure, there are plenty of +1s dotted all around, but the way many of us work on Twitter is to find interesting/relevant/fascinating content on the web, and then plop its URL into a URL shortener by hand, drop it into a desktop Twitter engine that does the shortening automatically—or now using Twitter's own web engine—rather than using a "share" button. It's a more thoughtful, curated process.
Twitter's "retweet" button is, in many ways, an equivalent of the +1 button—it's a way of quickly and almost disinterestedly sharing content you've found—and it's still not as frequently used on Twitter as the manual "RT" mode, where users pass on something they've found to their own followers, often commenting or expressing their own brief opinion. This interactivity validates the "find" and adds a tiny personalized flavor to content sharing. And yes, Plus has comments, but that's not quite the same as having a new discovery dropped into one's Twitter feed, perhaps from a source you've trusted before.
While Sparks is a powerful way for Google to integrate Plus with its own search engine and recommendation powers, it's again different from the way people discover and share content on Twitter, with Twitter's own search and recommendation skills still lagging Google's. With a bit of hindsight this may actually be in Twitter's favor, as it pushes users to discover really good content by navigating to it, finding it using other systems (including Google search) or creating it themselves—rather than blindly jabbing at a "Share" or "+1" button ... although I admit this is a personal observation (as a power Twitter user, though).
It's likely that the use-cases for Google+ will also differ than for Twitter as Plus evolves. Its long-form sharing is more akin to Facebook's status updates, and makes for a very different content discovery experience (hint: Don't follow Robert Scoble on Plus unless you're a big fan of scrolling through a lengthy news feed which has huge chunks of page space taken up by his long text passages, photos, and whatnot—in comparison it's easy to glance over irrelevant Twitter updates to pick up the interesting ones from this influential chap as they're limited to 140 characters).
As reported back in March, Twitter is experiencing rapid growth of its own and was averaging close to 500,000 new sign-ups every day. That's not a symptom of a system that's under any sort of immediate threat. And Twitter's status as an enabler of protests in the Arab Spring, as well as its class as a news broadcaster that undermines the traditionally staid and slow news industry is something that'll be hard to challenge. Highlighting this is the role Twitter's played in sharing news of the U.K.'s phone hacking scandal, with George Michael's tweets on the issue now prompting a further police investigation into illegal journalistic habits.
And so for now this much is clear: Google's massive might has enabled it to push more "+1" buttons onto the web than Twitter's on roughly equivalent features. But to take this as bad news for Twitter is a gross over-simplification. The game's still afoot, and it'll take a while yet for any winning moves to be played.
[Image: Flickr user topgold]