Anything that’s a something of something isn’t anything of anything. – Lisa Simpson
It’s remarkable that Facebook recognizes that it’s responsible for defining the Vision for social networking – and understands in a very deep way that the product it ships is merely a manifestation of this vision. This remarkable self-realization will be the core issue Google+ will have to grapple with.
Products are merely manifestations of Company Visions
Every successful company gets to be that way through a combination of clear, overarching vision; methodical execution, and stellar, competent teams. While execution and team make a product sing, it’s really the vision that users and customer are ultimately buying.
Competitors, like Google+ in this case, have to contend with this dilemma – either build a product close to the existing product manifestation, or redefine the vision, and build a completely different product to serve that new vision.
Unfortunately, redefining the vision is like building up a whole new business; if you’re trying to be a fast-follower, the logical approach is to follow the existing product manifestation, but make enough significant changes, and add new features, that the existing users of the incumbent service switch over.
However, if the incumbent decides to (a) throw out their primary product manifestation, and (b) convince the users that the new product is now the right manifestation of the vision they’re selling – the competition is in deep trouble! They’d always be playing catch-up with yesterday’s product!
Google+’s dilemma – be stale, or be lame?
Therein lies Google+’s dilemma. They can engineer the hell out of a product that’s significantly better than what Facebook looks like right now. But if Facebook changes that product entirely – it’s Timeline today, but could be something else next year – what are they going to do? Copying the latest product iteration makes them look lame; and not copying makes them look stale.
Apple and Facebook – Vision trumps Product
Most visionary companies don’t have the cojones to start from scratch and build a product that’s significantly different from what they’re known for, but that fits right into the vision they’ve set from themselves.
Apple is such a company – if the iPad cannibalizes their Mac group entirely, they won’t blink an eyelid – since it’s all about personal computing, whatever the product manifestation be.
We can now add Facebook to this list. Kudos!
UPDATE: Reworded the post title – suggested by @trueventures.