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Plus signThe Wall Street Journal posed the question of whether Facebook is worth $100 billion. I have no idea, but the market will sort that out over time. I do, however, have a point of view about Facebook versus Google+. From what I see so far, I think Facebook is now facing a very formidable competitor. My initial reaction has strengthened. Circles are a big deal and clearly the differentiator. What is a friend?

With Facebook, a friend is someone for whom you have accepted an invitation. Are they really all your friends? How many friends can a person have? What is a friend? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that a friend is one attached to another by affection or esteem. Would you say that about all your Facebook friends? I think of a friend as someone that I would ask for personal advice, invite to dinner at my home, borrow something from or lend something to, or discuss a medical condition with. I know most of my friend’s families or at least know something about them. I think we could all agree that there are various levels of friends.

In theory, you can establish this granularity with Facebook, but it is not easy and when you have done it, you are not really sure who can see the grouping you have established or who can read something you post to that group. With Google+, you can establish circles for best friends, semi-friends, acquaintances, people you can’t stand, favorite people, geniuses, half-loaves, golf buddies, political cohort, heard of them, never heard of them, etc. In other words, you define your circles, you put people in one or more of the circles you create, you easily upgrade or downgrade which circle a person is in, and you are confident that none of your “friends” can see which circle you have put them in. As that notion takes hold, I think millions of people will migrate to Google+.

When you and your family post to your family circle about upcoming Labor Day plans, you all will know that only family circle members will be able to read those personal and private communications. Privacy has been a highly visible issue for Facebook for a long time, but in my opinion, they have not really addressed it. Google has, and hence my optimism about Google+. I don’t rule out that a new entrant will come along and trump them all. That is the great thing about the Internet. A great idea can take hold and scale practically overnight. Stay tuned and keep an eye on your circles.