Facebook v. Google+: Completely Unscientific Case Study

Google+ was supposed to be a Facebook killer. If their social media icons are any indication, it's not happening.

When Google+ launched a few weeks back to great fanfare, a lot of people were touting it as a Facebook killer. For many of us, Facebook had become an almost useless cacophany of information from people ranging from all-but-forgotten school chums to family to work colleagues to real life friends. Google+ gave everyone a chance to start over and to segregate these communities into various “cicles” in order to manage the conversation.

But looking at both OTB and various other sites on the Web, I’m noticing a distinct trend: The +1 button just isn’t catching on while the Facebook like/recommend button is going gangbusters.

A completely unscientific and vainglorious example is that of my own articles for The Atlantic. Aside from my own interest in tracking the performance of these pages, it also happens to be a best case scenario for Google+ in that the page design puts both buttons side-by-side at the top of the page, making it equally likely that people who utilize the services will “like” the post.

In addition to the fact that the readers of The Atlantic seemingly don’t give a crap about the transatlantic relationship, which is mildly ironic if not shocking, what jumps out here is that, not only are people radically more apt to “like” the post on Facebook than to give it a +1 on Google, they’re even more likely to take the effort to register and post a comment than they are to +1 it.

Oh: And the Google+ numbers are actually wildly inflated, in that I +1’d all of them. Although, in two cases, I had neglected to do so until compiling this “research.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I still don’t understand what the point of the +1 is. When you use Facebook’s “Like” button, a link to the article appears on your Facebook page where others can see it, click on the link, and go read what you “liked”

    I have no idea what happens when I +1 something. My understanding is that it has some impact on search algorithms but it doesn’t appear on my Google+, page, at least not in an area where people can find it. If Goggle changed that one thing, +1 would be more useful I think

  2. I stand corrected. If you +1 something and you are signed into your Google account then there is an option to publicly share it. This must be a recent innovation.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yeah, I don’t get it either. You’d think that +1’ing something would automatically add it to your +1 stream–although that gets complicated because of Circles. But it’s just weird.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m constantly signed in to my Google account and even have a +1button on my Chrome header and it doesn’t give me anything.

  5. john personna says:

    I can apparently +1 as an iGoogle or Google Reader user. I have no Google+

    I don’t think I’ve ever used it though.

  6. It works for me, in Firefox and Chrome, if you let the mouse hover over the +1 after clicking it. This may be a feature that they are rolling out slowly, not sure.

  7. There’s a lot of people who want something like facebook, but with the ability to use it under a pseudonym. A lot of the excitment with Google+ was the idea that they were going to allow this. Instead the institued a real names policy that is even more hardcore than facebook’s, which drove a lot of people away.

  8. Murray says:

    Love that picture. Thanks for the laugh.

  9. Nebulous says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Actually, it does show up on your profile under the +1 tab(if you allow that). It’s a bit counter-intuitive when thought of in the context of the FB Like button. I might submit also that the average Facebook user is more prone to wildly clicking Like on every last thing than the average G+ user. That doesn’t apply here since we’re dealing with only OtB users, though.

  10. pajarosucio says:

    It’s interesting that G+ hasn’t caught on. There was plenty of early excitement about it and on paper I believe most people would prefer it to facebook, namely due to the ease of organization, simplicity, and its reach beyond just “friends” but into news, media, etc. Not to mention the incessant complaints with facebook about privacy, invasiveness, and the constant layout and useability reconfigurations, among others.

    However, people are entrenched in facebook and G+ hasn’t really provided any sort of earthshaking reason or event to get people to plug into it, become entrenched, then leave facebook. Facebook was able to achieve that when it was exclusively a college student utility slowly rolled to different university populations over time. I think the exclusivity and novelty drove an incredible number of college students into signing up, where they eventually found it fun and necessary. By the time facebook was made universal there was already a massive population on there for new users to interact with, which again drove more and more people to sign on. There’s just been no similar impetus for droves to log in to G+ and, while I don’t think it is doomed, it will likely stagnate until that impetus arises.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    I just use facebook and twitter to push my blog posts and get feedback on them. I signed up for G+ after reading this post and don’t really see that it offers anything facebook doesn’t. Of course I only have four followers – thank you Stephen.