Pssssst — wanna know a secret? Facebook is feeling the heat from the surprisingly successful launch of Google+. There is vigorous competition from the search-and-advertising giant many assumed couldn’t shoot straight when it came to social media.
Some caveats: For one thing, I say “surprising” only because Google was arguably a three-time loser in the space. For another, it’s actually no secret that Facebook is, shall we say, finding it necessary to adapt to what might be a new world order. Third: Facebook still reigns supreme in membership and impact and pretty much every metric you (or they) would choose to use. Google+ hasn’t been with us even two months yet, for heaven’s sake, and while it’s amassed tens of millions of users there are no guarantees.
What I am talking about here is trajectory, and meme. You will pardon the pun, and excuse the mixed metaphor, but Google has finally caught a wave, and Facebook is hearing footsteps.
Facebook’s biggest concession to the new landscape came the other day, in the sincerest form of flattery: it copied Google+ features that were key differentiators, designed precisely to hammer a stake in Facebook’s perceived weak spots. The world’s biggest social network makes earnest-sounding public expressions of concern for member privacy, and has made changes against type. But the truth is that Facebook depends on members sharing with abandon. So a lack of clarity about the consequences of sharing, and a certain complexity when it comes to altering and even understanding privacy settings are, shall we say, good for business.
On Tuesday Facebook went as far as it has ever gone to simplify how we know what, and with whom, we are sharing, and to empower us to stop others from sharing things about us we’d rather they did not. The last time Facebook did something resembling this was early last year. That was a mild change in comparison, and in the face of a media-darling treatment of a quixotic project by some NYU students to build the anti-Facebook, called Diaspora. (For anyone who doubts the significance of that emotionally-charged name, by all means look up “diaspora“).