Fast Company

Do Social Networks Really Compete? Google+ Vs. LinkedIn, Round One

Eric Schmidt maintains Google Plus isn't in competition with other social networks; LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner isn't convinced the two can coexist. Who's right?

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Google Plus's overnight success has sent the tech press and Google's competitors into a frenzy over how much market share the new social network will grab. Eric Schmidt, as always, maintains that Google is not in a zero-sum competition with its digital brethren, and that Google Plus will ultimately benefit many other businesses perceived as competitors. Yet, other social network leaders clearly think Google Plus represents an ominous threat. One such fellow is LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner, who recently complained that both social networks could not "coexist." Here, we weigh both arguments.

Internet Abundance For All

Schmidt has argued (even before Google Plus) that Google is not in competition with other social networks. "All of us benefit when Facebook or Twitter get more users because it means people are spending more time online," he told Wired UK. When the interviewer pointed out Google's declining rank against Twitter's in real-time search, Schmidt firmly retorted:

"I disagree with the premise of the question. We do not operate under the Microsoft rules – that Microsoft has to control everything. Twitter is a very important emergent social phenomenon. It’s very successful. And we think that’s good, because it means people are spending more and more time online. I don’t see the negative."

Ever the optimist, Schmidt maintained the very same position on the heels of Google Plus's public release, saying that he looked forward to deeper integration with Twitter and Facebook, even though the most recent deal with Twitter failed to find a way to keep real-time Twitter results in Google search.

There is substantial evidence to bolster Schmidt's outlook: social media use rates have been growing dramatically for years. Some of the most recent research shows that 1 out of every 6 minutes spent online is spent on social networks.

Indeed, Google Plus has already inspired influential leaders to use the service in unexpected ways. Digg founder Kevin Rose, for one, ported his popular blog entirely over to Google Plus.

Struggling Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich held a press conference with average citizens on Google Plus's praised video-chat feature, Hangout.

There are also rumors that Dell will use Google Hangout for customer service--and, this is all in the first month.

In other words, Schmidt might argue, trusting in the imagination of the ever-growing social media user-base should make social networking sites more cooperative, and less competitive.

But The Internet Is A Dog-Eat-Dog Universe

Weiner seems to think that the amount of time people spend on social networking is reaching a ceiling. "Nobody has any free time," he recently remarked. "Unlike social platforms and TV, which can coexist, you don't see people using Twitter while they're using Facebook, or using Facebook while they're using LinkedIn." He continued: "You introduce google+, where am I going to spend that next minute or hour of my discretionary time? I have no more time."

For all the rosy talk of cooperative integration, the Internet has a vast graveyard of social networking websites. Facebook famously upset the once social network monopoly, MySpace, which is now expected to apply a pink-slip tourniquet in the form of 37% of its workforce. A similar fate has befallen the once mighty Digg.com, and some critics have faulted Twitter as the killer, since Digg didn't have the celebrity appeal of Twitter, nor could it control the sophisticated power users that overwhelmed the front page. Many people attempted to use Digg to share information, something that wasn't possible unless a user was quite powerful.

LinkedIn seems keenly aware (and perhaps slight afraid) that it could get buried in the rising wave of social network users, rather than ride the wave to the shore.

Is This A Zero-Sum Game?

One of the qualities that makes social networking competitive is a closed environment: Social networks often confine user data to their websites, forcing users to stay within their ecosystem. Even though Facebook now allows users to download some data, it's not in an easily transferable format.

Google, on the other hand, seems intent on exploiting its newfound popularity to force rivals into more open data policies. Google Plus now allows users to download information on all the websites they have "+1'd" (below is a recently video with a subtle stab at Facebook).

Google's Chief Economist, Hal Varian, has admitted that their products are wielded with the intent of coercing Google's open standards on competitors. For instance, Google Chrome was released with an open-source copyright policy in the hopes that its super-speedy browser would compel others to integrate computer code that could quickly render HTML5, which is necessary for users to enjoy Google's more advanced web experiences.

While it's too early to say what exactly Google Plus's long-term goals are (or if it will be around long enough to accomplish them), Google might using its new social network as a chamber to blast out policies it hopes will make the web a more a partner-friendly playground for its search engine.

What do you think? Is Google Plus in competition with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? Or, will all (or most) social network sites benefit from Google Plus? Leave your comments below.

Follow Greg Ferenstein on Twitter and Google+. Also, follow Fast Company on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user rockfingrz Photography]

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4 Comments

  • Michael Browning

    The privacy settings, along with Circles, also make Google+ a possible solution to the LinkedIn/Facebook (Professional/Personal) divide of social networks. Users will only have to learn and monitor one platform for professional and personal networking. The same goes for advertisers as well. I am very optimistic about its future. 

  • Sumit

    I think LinkedIn can learn a lot from Google+.   The same concepts of grouping (circles) in Google+ and sharing are very much applicable to LinkedIn.   Here are some ideas on