Facebook has taken a swipe at Google+ (or Google Plus), the new toy from Internet search engine giant Google Inc., by launching Facebook for Business just days after businesses complained that Google+ smacks of favoritism and ignores the needs of corporate.
Launched in June 28, Google+ got off to a flying start and in the first three weeks of debut, it boasted of 20 million users, according to comScore.
However, the new social networking site hit turbulence last week, according to Web analytic firm Experian Hitwise.
For the week ended July 23, Hitwise said Google+ received only 1.79 million visits (down 3 percent compared to previous week) and the average time spent on the site was also down 10 percent, compared to previous week, to 5 minutes and 15 seconds.
Hitwise didn't offer any explanation for the drop in numbers but it is suspected that Google's decision to purge businesses from the site has contributed to the losses.
When Google+ was launched, everybody from private individuals to the largest of the business corporations wanted to be on it.
However, things took an ugly turn when Google began to boot businesses from the site because the site hasn't been optimized for them yet.
According to Christian Oestlien, Google+'s product manager, Google+ is currently "focused on optimizing for the consumer experience" and Google+ "will continue to disable business profiles using regular profiles."
To avoid deletion, the organization must "find a real person who is willing to represent (it) on Google+ using a real profile as him-or-herself."
Meanwhile, Google+ will select a limited number of business partners for a test period, Oestlien said.
Those who failed to obey Google+'s diktat, such as blog Search Engine Land and Sesame Street, were all deleted. Others, like the blog Mashable, escaped the axe because the profile was transferred in the name of the site's CEO, Pete Cashmore.
Google+'s decision left many businesses bitter and Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, didn't hesitate to say that it smacks of favoritism.
"I know you have great plans to have super wonderful business profiles eventually. But if you're going to only let a "tiny" number of businesses operate before that, then you taint them and yourselves with favoritism," Sullivan wrote on an open letter.
Google took note of the problem with Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering who is overseeing Google+, acknowledging that they "should have anticipated brands and people who want a following would be very frustrated when we didn't have proper profile support."
"This is my fault...We prioritized making a great experience for people first. None of our internal models showed this level of growth. We were caught flat-footed," Gundotra said.
The Google+ team, he added, is doing everything "to accelerate the work to properly handle this case."
In the middle of this muddle, Facebook has quietly attempted to poach on businesses that are dissatisfied with Google+'s decision, by releasing Facebook for Business that teaches companies how to use Facebook's "powerful marketing tools" to create a Facebook Page, build relationships with members of the Facebook community, and use Facebook Ads and Sponsored Stories.
"Facebook allows small businesses to create rich social experiences, build lasting relationships and amplify the most powerful type of marketing -- word of mouth," a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email to Reuters. "We created Facebook.com/business to make it even easier for people to reach these objectives and grow."
"Business owners can learn best practices for creating a Page and engaging customers in a two-way conversation to answer questions, get valuable feedback, and to reach their friends," a Facebook spokesperson wrote. "Businesses can learn how to find new customers before they search for them using Facebook's targeted Ads, and bring customers from the Web into their stores. And we want to inspire small businesses by seeing how other businesses have found success on Facebook by sharing their stories."
However, the move could be in vain because of five reasons:
Temporary Hiccup: Google+'s issue with businesses is a temporary one. According to Oestlien, Google has "a great team of engineers building a similarly optimized business experience for Google+," and Google expects "to have an initial version of businesses profiles up and running for EVERYONE in the next few months."
"Doing it right is worth the wait," he said.
Moreover, it isn't true that Google+ is ignoring the needs of the corporate. It's just that Google, which is a consumer-focused company, wasn't prepared for the flood-rush of companies, nonprofits, bands and other entities that wanted to be a part of the bandwagon.
Agrees Chris Murphy of InformationWeek also believes "Google isn't indifferent to the needs of business."
"Google's consumer-first approach can indeed produce creative products for business use. Just go in knowing where you stand in Google's line," he said.
Privacy: Privacy issues have haunted Facebook and Twitter for long. Anything posted up on Facebook or Twitter is displayed for the world at large to see and horror stories of contents not meant to be seen by family members, friends or co-workers are not new. However, both Facebook and Twitter have done little to address the issue and have adopted a cavalier attitude towards the problem.
On the other hand, Google has specifically attempted to address the problem by introducing Google+ Circles that allows users to separate their contacts in customized groups. Unlike in Facebook where everybody is a friend including your boss or your boss' cat, Circles users can group their contacts under specific names such as Family, Friends, Acquaintances, Co-workers, in fact, anything at all.
Circles, in fact, could be Google+'s biggest strength as neither Facebook nor Twitter allows you to group your contacts and both force users to share anything and everything they post with all their friends, with few options to control. On the other hand, Google+ allows users to share information with only those contacts or group of contacts they want to share with.
Data Liberation Tool: Facebook users have often complained how difficult it is to delete your profile or export your data elsewhere if you want to leave the site for good.
Google+ has circumvented this problem by introducing "data liberation" tool in Google+ which allows you to pack up and take your data away from Google+ should you decide to leave the service.
Hangouts: Perhaps the greatest strength of Google+, the multiuser video conferencing feature allows up to 10 users to see and talk to one another at the same time. The one with the loudest voice takes the center position. Hangouts can be the future of webinars and it has already sparked users' imaginations about potential business use cases. Despite Facebook announcing the integration of Skype video conferencing, nothing will be able to beat Hangouts, at least for now.
Facebook for Business Not New: Facebook for Business is nothing new because already Facebook is being used by corporate marketers to reach out to the site's 750 million users. All that Facebook is doing through Facebook for Business is showcasing the resources available to social marketers and assembling the resources in one place. Basically it's an "online education center" and does not come along with any new feature.
Nonetheless, the move is going to be a wake up call for Google as Facebook is Google+'s biggest rival and it keeps a lot of its user-generated content off-limits to the Google search engine.