The Final Showdown: Google+ vs. Facebook, Which One Is REALLY The Best?

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It’s an age old dispute (well, two years old, anyway): which is better, Facebook or Google+? Even here at MakeUseOf, we can’t quite agree. While my colleague Erez stated 18 months ago that Google+ will take over Facebook in two years (time’s almost up!), I had my doubts.

When it comes to social networks, especially big ones like Facebook and Google+, we all have our opinions. Some think Facebook is better due to its larger user base. Others think Google+ is better because of its slicker interface, or because it’s, well, owned by Google, which is considered by many less evil than Facebook.

But when push comes to shove, which one is actually the better social network? Which has the better interface? Better messaging options? Profile customizations? News feed? When it comes right down to it, which social network really wins? It’s time for a truly serious comparison, at the end of which we’ll have a definite answer, once and for all.

Interface

Interface is one of the most important points when using any service. Is it nice to look at? How easy is it to understand? Are frequently used features accessible enough? Let’s see how Facebook and Google+ compare.

google -interface

Google+ has been through many interface changes since its launch in June 2011, and the current one is pretty slick. Your news stream is very customizable, with two different layouts to choose from, and easy filtering according to your circles. It’s easy to see how many people already +1ed or shared a certain posts, and little avatars at the bottom of each post give you a glimpse of who those people are.

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Images in your feed appear in varying sizes, but some appear in a very large format, giving you the full benefit of high-res photos. Videos and animated GIFs play inline, so you don’t have to click and go to a different page to view them.

Each update tile is dynamic, and has two sides. Click an update’s hashtag (most of them have these as they’re added automatically by default) or view an update’s activity via the dropdown menu, and the tile flips over to show you related posts or all of the update’s +1’s, comments, etc. This is nice, as it lets you view lots of information while still remaining on your news feed page.

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A collapsible toolbar on the left side of the screen lets you navigate through the network. It is available no matter how far down you scroll, and automatically collapses when you’re not using it so save room.

Compared to this slick interface, Facebook seems almost outdated. There are no different layouts to choose from, and since Facebook doesn’t have other services in which to place ads, Facebook ads are very prominent in your new feed. In fact, they take up almost a third of your screen.

facebook-interface

At the moment, there’s no way to filter your news feed quickly, although it should be coming with the new news feed at some point. All you can do for now is sort by “Top Stories” or “Most Recent”. Anything else requires that you dig into Facebook’s options or use third-party filtering tools.

Looking at individual updates, it’s easy to see how many likes, shares and comments each post has, and for some posts you can even hover over the number of likes to get a complete list of who liked it. Images all appear in the same size, and to get a bigger version, or to play any videos, you have to click and go to a different screen. Same goes for hashtags, which are new to Facebook, and therefore barely used.

If you scroll your feed for one minute, you’re very likely to hit at least one “suggested post”, or recurring referrals to the fact your friends like some brand or other, prompting you to like it too. These also appear on the right side above the ads, in lieu of current events.

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Facebook’s navigation sidebar is pretty cluttered, and to be honest, rather useless (I never actually use it). It’s also stuck to the top, so as soon as you scroll down you don’t have access to it anymore. The top bar, however, is sticky, and gives you constant access to your settings, profile, notifications, friends requests, and the famous (or infamous) Facebook Graph Search, which we’ll get into shortly, or Facebook’s old search if you haven’t enabled Graph Search yet.

Winner: Google+, without a doubt. Facebook is planning a new news feed, but currently it’s left behind, as simple as that.

Profile

The first thing you notice about Google+ profiles is the cover images. They’re huge, but curiously enough, most of the image is not shown when you load the profile. Google+’s former cover images came in a size the most images didn’t fit into, so they’re now letting you upload huge images, but only show the very bottom part unless you scroll up.

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Your profile is divided into different tabs: About, Posts, Photos, Videos, +1’s, and Reviews. You can control which tabs are visible to visitors through the settings (search for the word “tabs” to find it. More on that later). Posts is the default viewing tab, and from here you can only change your profile image, cover image and, wait for it, change your name! Considering the Facebook name fiascos we’ve heard about, the ability to change your name just like that is impressive. You can’t do it too often, though, and it will change your name across your entire Google account, so watch out.

To edit the rest of your profile, head over to the About tab, and click any one of the edit links. The editing dialogue is tab-based, and makes it very easy to determine who can see which part of your profile.

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The areas included in your profile are: People (which people you want to see, who can see who’s in your circles, etc.), Story (tagline, introduction, bragging rights), Work, Education, Places (where you’ve lived), Basic Information (gender, birth date, other names, relationship, etc.), Contact Information, Links, and Apps (whether or not to show an app card on your profile).

Facebook, as we all know, doesn’t have profiles, but Timelines. The cover images on these are also partially scrolled down, but only a little, so most of your cover image is actually visible. Your Timeline is divided into: Timeline, About, Photos, Friends, and More. More actually includes much more, and features things such as Likes, Places, TV Shows, Movies, Events, Groups, and Instagram.

facebook-profile

Things change somewhat when you start scrolling down your Timeline. First of all, once you go past the ads on the left, your actual timeline suddenly appears, letting you browse your profile by year. Another change happens to the top tool bar. The tab bar you see under your cover image is not sticky, but a different one is, and the one includes a toggle between your Timeline and About pages, and a quick way to post a new status, photo, place, or life event.

facebook-profile-2[4]

Your Timeline is divided into two columns which scroll separately, showing updates on the right and sort of summaries on the left.

Similar to Google+, you can change your cover image and or profile image right here, and go to the About tab to edit additional info. The editing process is done on the About page itself: click the Edit button for the section you want to edit, and add information on the spot. Click Edit again to change existing information. No pop-up windows and tabs to navigate through.

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Winner: Facebook, by the skin of its teeth. Yes, it’s more cluttered, but that’s part of its charm. It feels like something unique, while your Google+ profile feels like just another profile on any old website. Both are easy to edit and customize, and the ability to browse the profile by time is a nice bonus for Facebook.

Chatting

When it comes to chatting, both networks offer surprisingly similar features, but some difference do stand out. Google+‘s Google Chat, or Google Hangouts, sits on the right side of the screen to be called on whenever you need it and hidden whenever you don’t. The weirdest part of the Google+ chat is that there’s no way to know who is online right now and who isn’t. It also chooses to show you just some of the people on your list, and it’s not clear what this is based on.

google -chat

Additional options include snoozing notifications, blocking people, deciding who can invite you to Hangouts, and calling phones. It’s also possible to access per-person settings, enable and disable notifications for them, archive your logs with them, etc. A chat window can be popped out to a different window, so you can use it independently from the Google+ window. And of course, there’s group video chats in Hangouts, and Hangouts On Air where you can watch random people in video Hangouts.

Facebook‘s chat appear either in the Facebook sidebar, which also includes the news ticker, and if you choose to disable it, as a collapsible window. It’s easy to see who’s online right now, and who’s available on mobile. You can also search for any friend who does not appear on the list to message them.

facebook-chat

Additional options include turning on chat for only some friends and not others, and turning off chat completely. You can also create group chats, and try your luck with video chats. Chat windows cannot be popped out, but Facebook does have a whole dedicated messaging page featuring your main inbox and Other inbox, where all messages are saved, even if you’re offline.

Both networks have a nice collection of emoticons, icons, and stickers, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Winner: Tie. Facebook offers good offline messaging, and a more reliable way to see how’s online and to find all your friends in the chat. Google+ includes video Hangouts and calling phones, which are killer features, despite the chat itself being a little bit confusing. In other words, if all you want it to chat with friends, go with Facebook.

Friends

This is probably one of the biggest differences between the networks. Google+ has circles. Anyone can add you to their circles without you having to authorize it or add them back, and they will from then on see all your public posts. You can add anyone you want to your circles, and have organize your friends according to whichever circles you want. This is very easy to set up, and is a basic part of how Google+ works. When you add a friend, you can immediately specify which circles they belong to. You can also rearrange things later on.

google -friends

Facebook‘s system works in a completely different way, and was patched up later on to resemble Google+ a little more. In short, you can add friends and they can add you, but you need to authorize each other, and friendship is mutual. If someone adds you and you authorize it, it means you add them. They are now your friends, and will see all posts directed at friends. Later on, Facebook added the ability to follow people’s public posts without them having to authorize it.

You can also create lists of friends such as Close Friends and make things more organized that way, but doing is far more cumbersome and time consuming than on Google+, especially since these featured were added only recently, when most of us already had lots of friends.

facebook-friends

Winner: Google+. The circles method is simply much better for all concerned, although it’s slightly less personal.

Posting Updates

Posting updates is a very important part of every social network, and the process has to be easy, fun, and seamless. Google+‘s update tile sits at the top of your news feed or profile, and expands to the center as soon as you click it.

google -updates

From this window you can send text updates, add photos by dragging and dropping or by browsing your computer/Google+ photos, post a link, and share a video either by finding on YouTube, posting a link to it or uploading it from your computer. From this dialogue, you can also create a brand new Google+ event and share it.

Who you share a post with is very easy to control. Simply start typing a name of a circle or a specific friend to add them, or choose from the dropdown menu or friends browser. You can also disable comments and reshares on a post with a simple click, send the update via email to your circles, and tag friends in updates by using the @ or + signs.

Here again, Facebook looks almost outdated. The update widget sits on top of your news feed or profile, letting you instantly share text or a link by pasting it into the box. To share a photo or a video, you have to click the “Add Photos/Video” link, which then lets you either upload photos or videos from your computer, or create a new photo album. For a photo you can also click the camera icon.

facebook-updates[4]

Each update can have a location and a mood, and you can tag users by clicking the head icon or by using the @ symbol. When it comes to who sees your posts, this depends on whether you use Facebook lists or not. In general, you can choose between public, friends, only you, custom (opens in a separate window), and your lists. Even if you use lists, you can’t share a post with several lists, you have to choose one. You can’t control comments or share to a post from here.

Winner: Google+. Much more flexibility, many more options, and much easier to decide exactly who sees the update.

Adding Photo Albums

Both social networks are a great way to share entire photo albums with friends. On Google+, you can access your photos tab from the left sidebar, and choose “Upload photos” to create a new albums. After you add some photos (by dragging and dropping or by browsing your computer), you can give your album a name, and give your photos captions. You can also rotate your photos, choose how many photos you want to view in each line, and order your photos according to date taken or name, or by dragging them around as you wish.

google -photos

You can then tag people in the photos if you want using a special wizard, and afterwards, a sharing wizard opens up letting you share the new album with whoever you wish. By default, photos you add are enhanced automatically by Google, but it’s easy to see the original version and revert to it if you want.

google -photos-2

If you want to edit your photos further, the “Edit” button opens up an entire photo editor in your browser (requires Flash). In addition, you can download the entire album or selected photos, view a slideshow, add the photo to another album, and share the album via a public link. If you’ve used Picasa Web Albums in the past, all those albums are now here too, and it’s best to make sure who they’re open to. it’s easy to see which album is open to whom from the album page.

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Here, again, Facebook is a little behind. To start, Facebook’s photo uploader requires Flash, and if you choose not to have it installed on your browser (if you use Firefox like me, for example), you’re going to have to use a different browser for this.

Facebook’s new albums process can be initiated from the news feed by clicking “Add Photo/Video” and then choosing to add a new photo album, or by going to the Photos tab on your Timeline and clicking on “Create Album”.

facebook-photos

The window above is the old uploader which doesn’t require Flash, but is very tedious to use. If Flash is enabled, adding a new album will immediately open a browsing window for your computer, letting you choose your photos. You can write a caption for each photo, tag people in them, and add locations and times. You can give the album a name and a description, and order photos by name, date taken, or by dragging them around. You can also choose which photo will be the album’s cover. At no points is it possible to rotate your photos, so you better have them rotated right before uploading them.

facebook-photos-2

When you’re done, choose who will see this album, and post the photos. Once that’s done, you can do back and edit them again by clicking edit, download single photos, turn photos into your profile or cover pictures, move to another album, and get a link for the album or a single photos. There’s nothing at all in the direction of photo editing, but you can highlight certain photos in the album to make them appear bigger in the mosaic.

facebook-photos-3

Winner: Google+. Both networks offer a nice interface, but Google+’s is simply better, and has many more features.

Controlling Privacy

Privacy is last, and not because it’s not important, quite on the contrary. Protecting your privacy is one of the most important aspects of social networking, and there’s no reason for privacy settings to be complicated.

Google, for some reason, has been flying mostly under the radar when it comes to privacy, and did not receive half the amount of complaints and accusations as Facebook. This might be the reason Google+‘s privacy settings are all in a huge, unfathomable pile. These are part of your Google account’s general settings, and all reside under one single tab: Google+.

google -privacy[4]

Here you’ll find everything from who can interact with your posts, which notifications you receive and for what, your app permissions, which circles you share with by default, what viewers can do with your photos, what your profile looks like… you get the picture. It’s all here, and the best way to find what you’re looking for is by using your browser’s good old Find function. Most of the settings you want are probably there. Good luck finding them.

Facebook, on the other hand, have been under attack for privacy concerns since day one, and has been working on simplifying its privacy settings for years. For this reason, we now have the Privacy Shortcuts menu right on the top toolbar, where you can control who sees your posts by default, who can contact you, and who can’t.

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The rest of the settings are organized in a way that makes specific settings fairly easy to find, and definitely easier to control than on Google+. It’s also much easier to scan the settings to see if anything new and surprising was added, and to make sure everything is set up to your liking.

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Winner: Facebook. Social networks always cause privacy concerns, and Facebook makes it easier to understand where you stand.

So Which Is Better?

Summing it all up, we get a score of 4:2 in favor of Google+, with one tie. In almost every respect, Google+ currently offers the better experience out of the two rival networks, although Facebook does win in Profile and Privacy, which are pretty important.

The main reason most of us still prefer Facebook is simple: it’s where people are. Why are people there? Probably because it was first. This is a recursive argument, because if we all move to Google+, that’s where people will be. But it’s not easy, and in the mean time, if you truly want to stay updated and have an audience, you will understandably stick to Facebook (I know I do).

Tired of Facebook for whatever reason? A slick, feature-rich and kind of lonely alternative is waiting right around the corner. It’s up to us to populate it.

Do you agree with the final result? Is there an important point we missed? When it comes down to it, which network do you prefer, and why? Let us know!

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