Like most of the Internet Giant’s social networking efforts, the reception of Google Plus has been up and down. After a long-awaited debut and a surprisingly positive initial reaction, the smoke is clearing away to reveal a growing nugget of doubt. After all, compared to Facebook, Plus is a ghost town. But wait, should we even be comparing the two? A closer look indicates Google has something different -- and potentially way more powerful -- up its sleeve.

A Google Gateway

If your sole argument against Google+ is that it's not Facebook, stop right there. The most important thing to keep in mind about Plus is that it is not a standalone product. While Facebook's 800 million users might make G+'s 40 million look a bit silly, things change significantly when you throw Google Search users, Gmail users, Android users, etc. in the pot. 

From this angle, these two players are more like opposites. Facebook, a social watering hole, is trying to integrate popular services into its hub, while Google+ is attempting to become the hub.  

“Six months from now, it will become increasingly apparent what we’re doing with Google+,” said Google executive, Bradley Horowitz. “It will be revealed less in what we say and more in the product launches we reveal week by week.”

We've seen a bit of this direction in recent times with the injection of Google+ into Reader and Blogger. Imagine all of Google's product connecting this way, too. 

Will Facebook be a Casualty? 

From a consumer angle, I think it's going to be worrying for platforms like Facebook. I mean, if there were some way for me to connect my Facebook account with Google Search, Reader and Gmail, and engage with all of them from one central area, I would do it. In a heartbeat. Google Plus aims to offer this without the appeal that Facebook has, hoping that its users will adopt the network as a natural result. 

“We think of Google+ as a mode of usage of Google,” continued Horowitz, “a way of lighting up your Google experience as opposed to a new product. It’s something that takes time to appreciate, even internally. It’s easy to think of Google+ as something other than just Google, and I think it’ll take more launches before the world catches up with this understanding.”

Can Ad Dollars Save the Day?

From a business angle, Facebook is still seems to be the place to go for ad dollars, but even that area isn't seeing as much action as the hype suggests. EML Wildfire put together a nifty infographic that highlights a few interesting statistics about a pool of UK-based businesses, for example:

  • Only 30% of businesses with a Facebook account use it to engage with users
  • Only 20% of businesses with a Facebook account receive comments
  • Only 8% of those comments received replies

In other words, the field is still wide open. If Plus manages to compile actionable consumer data in addition to linking all Google-powered activity, its appeal could very well outweigh that of Facebook. 

Thoughts? Drop them in the comments  below.