Social Inertia: Why Facebook will keep “beating” Google+


Maybe Google+ is a much better solution for everybody. It’s possible Google engineers watched the trials and errors of Facebook and all its predecessor platforms and somehow picked the right formula. Perhaps they made G+ much easier to use than Facebook, easier to protect privacy, easier to communicate via other cool Google technologies. Despite all that, Facebook will continue to be the social platform of choice for the foreseeable future. Why? It’s all about “social inertia”, people have unwittingly committed to Facebook for the long haul because it simply requires too much energy to leave.

Think of this whole social platform migration as moving your home. Today you live in a house, in a decent neighborhood, is it the greatest neighborhood of all time? Not really, but ultimately it works for you because your family is close by and your friends are generally there. Sure, some of your neighbors are a little pesky – you can seem them watching you out their windows, and you wish they knew less about you but you sort of just deal with it as a trade-off of living in this neighborhood. On top of all this, after a few years you’ve finally got all “your stuff”  in mostly in the right place in your home. It really took a long time for all that stuff to get settled where you wanted it. It wasn’t easy to find it all, look at it, sort it, figure out where it should go and if you wanted people to see it when they came over. What a huge pain, but now you’re done with all that effort and it feels good to have your home all decorated and set the way you want.


Imagine you have an opportunity to move to a new neighborhood. The developer of this place says he looked into all the things about your current neighborhood that you dislike and he’s fixed it! The house is a little nicer, there’s some additional amenities thrown in there, more square footage, a three car garage, a pool, an ingenious way to prevent those nosy neighbors you aren’t “really” friends with from poking around your property. There’s even a huge back yard with a high stockade fence where all your friends can hang out, and have a grand old time sharing stories about everything that is going on in your life without people you don’t know seeing what you are up to. There’s only one catch, there is almost nobody else in this neighborhood, it’s vacant, abandoned, crickets and tumbleweeds. So you’ve got to do two things:

1. Convince all your friends they should move into this alleged utopia with you

Oh dear, this new gleaming metropolis isn’t looking as exciting all of a sudden. Move? Who likes moving? Nobody, it’s one of the most painful activities you can subject yourself to. What seems to be lost in this whole Google+ / Facebook death match is that features really don’t matter all that much when compared to the benefit you are seeking in a social platform. As with every other aspect of humanity, it all comes down to content content content. Perhaps if Google+ and Facebook were built concurrently, the conversation would be different because it’s possible that Google+ is truly a better platform. But since Facebook has such a head start, it just doesn’t matter because people don’t want to take a month to move all their “stuff” to a new platform when after all that work, their friends probably won’t even ever live there. Facebook may be the equivalent of an online ghetto but it doesn’t matter because it’s still home for the people you care about.  In other words, there is no motivation to break the inertia. In this case the inertia is massive because it’s not simply co0njuring up the energy to move your stuff, you have to get many other people to do the same thing. Honestly, it’s about as impossible a task as I can think of unless Facebook makes some sort of catastrophic mistake that infuriates people to the point of action. This, also, is unlikely.

Google+ is a marble museum, it’s built well, it works, it’s efficient, it seems to be more set up for future success and expansion…. but it’s cold. Facebook is cluttered, and noisy, it’s loaded with crap you don’t care about, and it’s hard to figure out how to keep your boss from seeing your posts but it’s got more of a speakeasy feel, it’s just warmer.  Of the 800 million or so Facebook users, that counts for something.

History has shown that the best product will not always win out which is infuriating on one end but usually simply a matter practicality. Most folks don’t care exclusively about features a features arms race excites only a small subset of users. Folks care about the people that are important to them and until there are more if them  in the G+ neighborhood, they aint movin.

2 Responses

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  • Greg Mischio says:

    Nice post, John, and I totally agree with you. Why don’t these technology giants realize that trying to copy someone else’s innovation just won’t work? Why does Microsoft want to be the best at search, when they should have been figuring out how to make their Office product better? Now Google with Facebook.

    These guys don’t understand that people are inundated with technology, and that we don’t want to have to pack up everything and leave and learn something new, no matter how cool it may be. Give us something new, some different, then maybe we’ll go there.

    • john mataraza says:

      Thanks for the post Greg. Your point about fresh innovation is a good one. I’m fine with somebody coming along and making an existing “thing” better but there needs to be a need for it to be better. Many would say that G+ is indeed a better platform but I just don’t know that we really need it (well, other than to keep Facebook honest and I suppose there is some value just in that).

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