In May of 2007 I sent an email to a business partner telling her "You need to get off MySpace and get on Facebook.com. MySpace is so 8-track."
She wrote me back saying "Never heard of Facebook."
Bet she has now.
In those four years Facebook has garnered over 600 million users, and depending on whose valuation you use, is worth around $75-100 billion. MySpace, sold several years ago for $500 million, was sold this week for $35 million.
Why is Facebook so valuable? It is the first true identity layer on the internet. You volunteer your real name, school, friends and other personal information. The average Facebook user has 130 friends and creates 90 pieces of content every month. Your identity is verified by you for accuracy. A dataset of 600 million people with "verified" information is why Facebook's upcoming IPO is going to be so intense.
Google has nibbled at the edges of the social web with Google Buzz and Orkut, but now with Google+ they are going straight for the social identity space that Facebook dominates.
RIght now, Google+ is available only by invite, and judging by tech blogs, people are clamoring for those invites. So is Google+ a Facebook clone? Why would people leave Facebook?
The news feeds look similar, you can hide posts a la Facebook, your personal profile looks very familiar, there's a "like" button, and notifications look as much as they do in Facebook.
So how is Google+ different? First of all, it looks beautiful. The interface was designed by Andy Hertzfeld, who was the lead designer of the interface of the original Macintosh.
He has added attractive, quirky touches such as "circles" which are an intuitive way to organize groups of people or interests, and "huddles," which is an interesting live video chat feature. For Google, which to this point has been basically interface neutral, it's a very Apple-like departure.
At its heart however, Google is still all about search. They understand that searches, and the ads that are delivered as a result of them (which is where the money is), need to be more relevant to the user in terms of their own location and their own social profile.
If you are one of the 500,000 new Android users added every day, then you are already helping Google on the "location" layer of your identity through GPS or wireless location services.
Now Google wants you to help them on the "social" layer of your identity. Bradley Horowitz of Google said this week "It is about time we have come to the realization if you don't know people, then you can't organize the information for people."
When Facebook was new, it co-opted the "cool" factor from MySpace. Is Google+ doing the same thing? Famed tech blogger Robert Scoble proclaimed his love for Google+ this week exclaiming "It's for us!" Us being geeks.
It's hard to see how Facebook can be beaten at the social game. Then again, it's hard to see how it can get much hotter, given exceptional investor interest, 600 million users, and an Oscar-nominated movie.
Will Google+ relegate Facebook to MySpace status? I'll Twitter you about it in a couple of years.