We're all captivated by bright, shiny new things. In the tech business, we've had a lot of them in a short period of time. Some (like the iPod) shut off entrepreneurial activity and brought all the value of a number of industries (music/video marketplaces, DRM, MP3 players, etc.) more or less to a single company -- Apple. Others (like the iPhone and iPod) create a ton of economic value as companies look to engage with customers better. Consider also, the world of "self-publishing" has been unleashed with Twitter and YouTube. Social context has been unleashed with Facebook. Our resumes and business relationships have been captured by LinkedIn. And the potential of local business services has kinda been unlocked by Groupon, LivingSocial, and location-based services.
If it all ended tomorrow, we will have lived through one hell of a run over the last 7 years. We've come a long way in a short period of time. I don't think it's over by any means, but let's call it for what it is. It's great to be in tech right now.
Now there's another shiny thing, Google+, which from my vantage point appears to be a less functional version of Facebook with a good UI for putting people into Circles. It has attracted a large audience of people in the tech industry, but the masses can't help but ask the question:
"Why should I use both this and Facebook?"
Google+ solves a problem that power users of social networks have -- easy ways to differentiate friends and to put them into groups easily. The resulting data set that emerges from this would be rich. But, of course, it has to scale beyond people in the tech industry. And the everyday person has to see & understand the value in it to make someone migrate from Facebook primarily to Google+. I haven't even mentioned the challenge of moving your entire social graph as well. Social networks are a lot less interesting when your friends are not there. I already see this phenomenon on Google+ -- pretty much the most active people there are folks in my Twitter stream, not people in my Facebook News Feed.
It's ambitious of Google to go after this market. I think they originally wanted to unseat Facebook, but Google+ may end up being a bigger competitor for Twitter. The audiences right now are almost identical. The use cases are also -- I use both to listen, not so much to participate.
If Facebook truly feels a threat, I'm sure they'll introduce a slightly modified Circles equivalent and knock the legs out from under Google+. That's the trouble with business process innovations -- they're so easily copied. You have to have more than business process innovation to last. You need a technical edge and a visionary roadmap to compete today, in addition to a world-class user experience for whatever it is that you are selling.
The bigger question this begs for me right now is really why Twitter has not innovated much. And are they planning to do so anywhere other than ads? Heck, it may not even matter. As stale as Twitter may look these days, it's all over mass media and it remains the best way for average people to keep up with their favorite celebrities. Those are two huge advantages.