When Google+ first launched and started making waves in the social networking world, many things changed. The perception of Google as a search-only company changed. The way that people viewed social networking as a 1-horse race with a couple of niche players on the side changed. Today, we're starting to see that something else changed.
Facebook went in a new direction based upon the threat that Google+ represents. Today, they announced sweeping changes to simplify and enhance user privacy. People will have more control over how they're tagged in photos and other content with a new feature that allows tags to be reviewed before going live. Perhaps more importantly, they made many of the privacy settings much easier to find. Rather than going into settings, users can now manage things inline through a dropdown menu next to the content on their profiles.
Prior to the change, it simply wasn't very easy. Facebook did their best to make it seem easy, but the reality was quite complicated. "Most of the settings for stuff on your profile were a few clicks away on a series of settings pages," said Chris Cox, VP of Product at Facebook.
On top of those changes, Facebook has been switching gears to focus on improving design and functionality through acquisitions. The prospect of a new Facebook design is always a fun one in the blogging world, as previous attempts have been met with a plethora of negative feedback.
Is it really possible that all of these changes are a direct result of Google+?
It's pretty clear that Google+ did more than register as a blip on Facebook's radar. They immediately launched Skype video calling a week after Google+ and their own video calling feature, Hangouts, launched. Facebook confirmed they were planning on turning the integration into a group chatting feature and today's purchase by Skype of Groupme is the first step towards that goal. The changes in privacy settings mirror Google+ in many ways.
Not everyone agrees.
"Facebook has been a consistent revolving door," said Erin Ryan, Social Media Promotional Director at Hasai. "Perhaps G+ has caused some tweaks to what would have already been a thought out plan. Look at its history."
Regardless of the motives, the real winners will be the users.
Competition is Good for Us
Let's face it. Until Google+ rolled onto the scene, Facebook was practically a monopoly. Twitter has never been a true social network. LinkedIn is focused on business (a niche that Facebook can still take over). Tagged is about making new connections, something that Facebook has avoided. MySpace is heading in another direction altogether. The competitors are so thin, if you combine all of the major social networks users, Facebook would still be larger.
Along came Google+, and for the first time in a couple of years, Facebook is feeling heat from the competition.
Whether you believe that Google+ is the driving force or not, the results have been beneficial. Having the attention of a large chunk of the population has given Facebook the ability to push aside user concerns. They made half-hearted attempts to simplify privacy in the past but have always kept it somewhat complicated. The reason is easy - they don't want things to be private. They want as much information about the users exposed and visible, forcing users and businesses to pay more attention to the site and what's posted on it.
Competition has forced them to pay more attention to the users. They have shown signs of plateauing usage and Facebook growth has slowed in recent months. Google+ has a slicker interface and is built on a more modern platform. Plus, they're Google. Facebook still has a major upper hand as well as control of their own destiny, but fickle social media users will make the switch if concerns aren't addressed.
This renewed focus on improving user experience is due to the Google+ threat. It may be the best thing that every happened to them (and us).