Humans have two very strong impulses (among others): the need to be part of a group and the need to seek out new and interesting information. When we spend time with our families, join a club, or go to a party, we’re feeding that need to belong. When we read a book or browse the web, we’re feeding the need for new information.
Facebook facilitates sharing information within social groups. It’s a very powerful concept, one that appeals directly to the human need to socialize. In fact, I believe it strengthens group connections, which is why we see so many old friends and classmates reconnecting on Facebook.
What about the other need I mentioned – the need to find new information? That’s where Twitter comes in. Twitter is many things to many people but the primary value I see in Twitter is the ability to follow the thoughts and ideas of some of the world’s most interesting people. Whether you’re interested in news, sports, science, technology, or the latest comings and goings of Lady Gaga, Twitter has proven a remarkably timely and powerful source of information, usually beating the major news organizations to the punch.
Each service’s dominant usage model reinforces its unique value: Facebook users tend to focus on two-way “friendship” relationships, which facilitate group interactions, while Twitter users tend to accumulate one-way “follower” relationships, enabling them to monitor people they find interesting.
The newest arrival on the scene, Google+, implements a hybrid model: Google+ users can establish one-way follower relationships as well as bi-directional friend-like relationships. In this way, Google+ offers the best of both services. At the same time, it’s innovative design overcomes some critical shortcomings in both services (e.g., Five Things I Hate About Facebook).
So when my friends ask me what Google+ is all about, I like to says it’s basically everything you already like about Facebook and Twitter, plus better usability and a whole lot more cool stuff I haven’t even mentioned (like circles and group video conferencing). And for people like me, who’ve gotten used to reading and posting on two completely different services, all that goodness is now available in one place – that may be the biggest deal of all.