Google+, Facebook duel is big boon for users

Users get more features, better privacy as social rivals duke it out

Industry analysts have suspected that adding Google+ to the social networking mix would force Facebook to up its game. And it looks like that prediction is coming true.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it tweaked its privacy settings , making them more intuitive and more clearly informing users of who will be able to see the posts and links that they put on the site. It's a move that is making Facebook 's privacy settings more like those found on new rival Google+ .

And the changes aren't one-sided in this battle of one-upsmanship.

Google this week announced that it has made a few changes to its +1 button . Google reported that when users hover over the +1 button on a Web page or article, it will show them a list of friends and online contacts who already have clicked on it. This makes Google's +1 button a lot like Facebook's Like button.

On Wednesday, Google also noted that it was adding another feature to the +1 button. Google+ users can share Web pages with people in their circles just by clicking the +1 button. When they click on it, they'll be shown a "Share on Google+" option.

" Facebook and Google, as direct competitors, are the best thing that's ever happened to social networking in terms of fueling innovation and improvements," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "When Facebook was the 800-pound gorilla and essentially unchallenged, there wasn't much urgency behind any changes. Now that there's another gorilla in the same cage, it's going to push both companies to go all out to dazzle and satisfy users."

Olds also noted that with Google+ picking up a lot of momentum at the outset, both companies will be quick to upgrade their sites, respond to frustrated users and even steal strong points from their competitor.

"It's pretty widely acknowledged that Google+ has done a better job with privacy than Facebook has, so I would expect Facebook to tweak its privacy settings to fix it," he added. "And Google sees that Facebook has a quick and easy way to rate things, so they spiff up their +1 button. We're going to see a lot of this type of activity."

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said this kind of heated competition will force a leapfrogging effect that will only benefit users, who will get new features and more attention to their gripes.

The quick moves by Google+ and Facebook to better each other will likely spill over to other social sites, such as Twitter and Quora, said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis. "I do think that the innovation and maturation of Facebook and Google+ will encourage other consumer-oriented players to keep up in terms of providing a safe, productive and enjoyable user experience," he said.

Going forward, Olds expects both sites to build in more tie-ins with localized content, as well as local deals, much like users get with sites like Groupon . He also expects both Google+ and Facebook will continue to beef up their mobile platforms.

"From a user perspective, this kind of competition is exactly what the social networking world needs," he said. "Social network users will see a lot of new features coming their way soon."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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