With the advent of Google Plus a few weeks ago, I've found it interesting to compare the differences of the major 'social networks' out there in today's internet. There's been a lot of discussion out there on Facebook versus Google, but I don't think it's fair to compare only these two applications. After all, Twitter is a major player who's simplicity and wide range of possibilities that, in some regards, is something that Google Plus is also targeting.
To start out I'd like to share what my idea how today's internet is changing. For the longest time publishing content on the web and sharing it with the world was a fairly difficult process. Even with the advent of Yahoo! GeoCities, MySpace, and blogging networks, it was difficult to show your friends, families, or 'followers' (people who are interested in your content but may not be an acquaintance) without sending links with every update. There are a few things that helped with that (search engines to find, rss/notifications to update), but it was still a clunky process. Then there was Facebook.
Facebook started out as a way to share personal information with the world - be it thoughts, photos, or notes. Anyone could do it (after they expanded past the college networks, that is), even if you didn't have experience with web development or owned a server. More recently, Facebook has started to change into a general content sharing application. Now you can like, share, or interact with web pages in a way that is exclusive to Facebook in it's market partners. The social network went from being a personal content engine into a dynamic, interactive silo of web information.
There are other, niche social networks that perform similar to Facebook. Based around similar interests, these networks help people that may not know each other in real life connect and share thoughts and ideas in a new and exciting way. While Facebook allows you to connect and interact with groups, there is no clear definition of what this new form of interaction is. You can interact w/ others by commenting on groups, commenting on other walls, updating your status, liking, commenting on statuses, direct messaging, etc... and who knows how widespread your interactions may be. These niche social networks have the same issues, but these networks are different than the friends and family you have on Facebook, allowing you interact with them as such.
Of course, if we're going to look at widespread interaction, it's important to bring up Twitter. This revolutionary simple way of sharing opened up lots of possibilities by keeping things simple. More important, this network allowed you to interact with people well outside your real-life social circle. Companies can send rebates to interested consumers, fans can chat with celebrities, and an average person can rise in popularity thanks to their knowledge or wit.
Now to the most recent social network - Google Plus. Most similar to Facebook, Google Plus changes the social network field by simplifying the sharing process with natively organizing people into 'circles'. This allows you to target the content you publish on Google Plus, providing an easy way to use a single application to update your friends, family, followers, and more. I've been picturing this as a merge of both Facebook and Twitter functionality. You can share private information with the people who are close to you, protected information with people you trust, and public information for people to passively find you. This brings the idea of publishing content on the web into a whole new level of audience targeting... and it's all indexable by Google.
While Google Plus has great potential to becoming a major social hub, there are a few things standing in it's way to becoming the dominant one. Obviously there is the time delay to think about. While Facebook and Twitter was a bit rushed for release, it has been around for a long time and is quite stable in both functionality and market share. I'm more interested in this question: should there be only one social network? After all, niche social networks offer the opportunity for people to meet up and get connected based on interest, something that none of the other networks brought up in this post come close to addressing. I feel that Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus could all co-existant (although Facebook and Google Plus might get a bit uncomfortable in the same room). Also, while I like the idea of multiple social networks for competitive innovation, will people be willing to use or choose between them?