After taking the tour and going over the demo, here is an initial take on whether Google+ is a threat to Facebook.
Google+ addresses some key gaps in Facebook very elegantly and intuitively.
Circles is an excellent concept and addresses a key issue that people face on Facebook. My Facebook network is an amalgam of all the other networks in my life – casual friends, close friends, family, cousins, work colleagues and acquaintances. Most people interact differently with the various networks in their lives, but Facebook does not do a very good job of facilitating this online. I have to say that Facebook’s “Friends Lists” is somewhat clunky and not very well implemented.
Google Circles is a very elegant approach to segmenting my friends and interacting differently with them, just like in real life. Its implementation intuitively makes sense.
Hangouts addresses another Facebook gap. Many a time have I felt that I’d like to interact with some of my friends more closely instead of only responding to their status updates or watching their photos. Many of my friends are scattered all over the world and I’d like to have the opportunity to hang out with them again. And Google’s Hangout, with its excellent video service seems like a great way to do this.
But there are switching costs in moving from Facebook to Google+
By itself, it does not seem likely that people will move over to Google+ from Facebook, even though Circles and Hangouts are excellent features. The big factor that will prevent switching is the Network effect. Many people have at least 100 friends on Facebook and it is going to be hard to move with all one’s friends to Google Plus.
Another major switching cost is that people have a lot of photos on Facebook. Of course, if Google were to introduce a photo transfer feature to enable people to port their photos over from Facebook it will make it easier. People also belong to many groups on Facebook but I am not sure that this is a major blocker, because people are usually passive members of groups and tend to forget about their groups soon after joining.
It would also be interesting to see whether Google+ has a feature to let people port over their friends and content such as photos or wall posts. This might reduce some switching costs.
Facebook can (and likely will) replicate Circles and Hangouts:
Even though Circles and Hangouts are intuitive features that address key gaps in Facebook, Facebook ought to be able to replicate these so that people do not have an incentive to switch. I expect that they will come up with a way to let people do what Circles enables them to, which is to segment their friends and present different updates, photos and views of themselves to their different friends’ circles. Similarly, I expect Facebook will provide sophisticated video chat capabilities to match Hangouts.
Fundamentally, Facebook is a great product and more importantly, has a hard-to-replicate ecosystem. It only has to address its gaps and make sure there are not many incentives to switch.
Integration with Google products could be the Game-changer
However, there is one factor that could get people to start using Google+ at scale. How well Google+ is integrated with popular products such as Gmail, Search or Android could be the game changer.
And this is where I’d like to actually get an invite and check out for myself how well Google Plus is integrated with Search, Gmail and Android. I plan to have an updated post after I tinker with Google Plus. Watch this space.