News flash – new media and traditional media alike enjoy nothing better than doomsday predictions and premature eulogies. As such, Google+ has been suffering a tremendous lashing by most professional critics for the last few months, as underwhelming (and vague) engagement numbers have mixed with independent reports of inactivity. Everyone’s ready to have the Doctors call it on Google+. But we’ve all been wrong before, so I’m going to look at a hypothetical situation in which Google+ would become an overnight sensation.
Facebook would have to make a critical privacy mistake.
First of all, I want to say that it took years before people stopped assuming that users would just vacate Facebook for the “new kid” just like they had vacated MySpace for Facebook. It took a while for people to really get used to the service and it’s phenomenal growth. Now that Facebook has somewhat proven its usefulness, we live in a world where everyone assumes something must have Zuckerbergian virality or it’s not a success.
It’s ironic to see all sorts of pundits making the reverse proclamations now – that nobody will ever leave Facebook, no matter what. So to play devil’s advocate – what sort of event could cause people to leave Facebook these days? It’d be tough – we have so much of our life history now entered into Facebook that it’d take a lot for us to abandon it. But what if there was a brutal security flaw? What if Facebook leaked our message history to the entire web, so that anybody could look up your name and see what you’d written privately to all of your contacts? That’d be mortifying, wouldn’t it?
And what would happen then? Surely everyone would swear off social networks for a time – but the problem would be that all those people who want to tell the world that they’re swearing off social networks would have nowhere to post it.
Slowly, and surely, Google would be there to catch us on the rebound. They’d modify the service, maybe even rebrand it. The term “social network” would be dead, and we’d have “contact circles” or something like that, focused on close ties between us and our friends.
Facebook, of course, is not about to let anybody access it’s message history, but I’d bet that some of the best hackers in the world are looking for ways to sabotage the biggest tech phenomenon in the last twenty years. It may not be the message history, but a big security breach at Facebook would be enough for a smaller effect to occur, thereby sending users to the next best alternative.
So, what do you think? Would you join G+ if FB had a security breach?