When Google launched its Google+ social network just over four years ago, it was an ambitious project. Google+ was an attempt to re-invent how people use the Internet. As one columnist eloquently put it, Google+ wasn't Google's version of Facebook (as everyone assumed); it was Google's version of Google.
The vision was to integrate most Google services into Google+. Google+ was supposed to be an identity platform, a photo and video platform, a news discovery site, a hotel and restaurant guide and the mother of all messaging and video-chat platforms. Oh, and it was a social network, too.
That Google+ vision has been largely realized -- not by Google, but by Facebook.
Since Google+ launched, Facebook copied its long-form posts, its circle-like follower system, its flexible connection model (both friend and follower), its photo editing features and many other components of the Google+ vision. Facebook is being turned into a video site based mainly on YouTube, just like Google+ was supposed to be. And Facebook has made moves to transform its social networking site into a news discovery site (Google+ launched with a news discovery feature called Sparks but removed it a year after launch). Facebook this month even went so far as to add the ability to search posts (although Facebook's post search feature doesn't work as well as Google's).
When Google+ launched, Facebook had a massive head start on users, and it has extended that lead by an unknown but probably massive degree. Facebook probably has more than a billion more active users than Google+ does, although Google as a company may have more users than Facebook as a company does (especially if you add the Android user numbers to Search, YouTube, Google+, Gmail and all the rest).
Still, the choice between Google+ and Facebook has always been this: Do you want a better social network that hardly anyone you personally know uses, or do you want an inferior site that absolutely everyone you know uses?
People do social networking mostly to maintain and enhance relationships, so Facebook may always be the biggest social network. Facebook is the telephone system of our era. You have to have a phone number, and it doesn't matter how much you like your phone company.
The grand irony is that while Facebook has been totally killing it with the Google+ vision, the Google+ vision was killing Google+ -- at least from a PR standpoint. It turns out that users can accept a social networking company turning one product into many, but they can't accept the forcing of many products into one.
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