And it is, in the technical sense that both share a lot of the same features and both could be considered social-media products. In reality, however, Google+ rivaled Facebook only slightly more than I'm a viable contender to win next year's NASCAR championship. (Hey, I have a car and know how to drive.)
The search giant's efforts to compete with the social-media leader haven't really caught on, and most users never fully understood what the company was trying to do. To remedy that problem, Google is making big changes to Google+, based on user feedback and the actions on the service that have proved most popular.
It's an attempt to reboot a largely failed idea, which many thought the company might simply close. The redesign embraces the idea of simplifying everything, and it moves the product away from being a Facebook clone to attempting to carve out its own market.
What is Google doing?
Google has rebuilt Google+ around the two features the company said consumers were actually using -- Communities and Collections. Both are variations on social-media sites, with Communities offering "a new way for you to connect with other people around the things you're passionate about" and Collections "a new way to group your posts by topic" according to the Web pages for each site.
Both sites, Google said, are based on what people were actually using Google+ to do. Community is built more around connecting with people who like what you like, and Collections is more about the subject matter. Both have the now-common features offered on other social-media sites that allow people to share with the world, a select group, or just the people they're connected to.
Does it work?
All the various Google introductions use the word "simple" to describe the new service. It would have been hard to be more complicated than the previous mishmash Google+ offered, but "more simple" isn't really the same as "simple."
The reason for the success of Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even the social sites of days gone by, including MySpace and Friendster, is that people instinctively understood how to use them. Facebook has no learning curve. That's why my elderly relatives and my teenage cousins all know how to use it. Sign up, connect to friends, and post pictures of your cats, the meal you're about to eat, or whatever news story currently has you interested or enraged.
Google+ may be simple compared with its previous version, but it's still not intuitive. That's not to say the new version is a failure -- some people might prefer how Communities and Collections focuses interaction around topics and shared interests -- but it's not without a learning curve. Even though Google has simplified Google+, it's still too complicated in that many people will look at it and not know what to do or how to find the people they'd like to interact with.
It won't challenge Facebook
The oddest thing here is that in simplifying, Google has chosen to do something fairly complicated. Instead of integrating Communities and Collections into one service, it has chosen to make them separate, which will probably limit user adoption.
Facebook has separate services, such as Messenger, but it doesn't break core functionality out of people's news feeds. Google has created distinct products that may both find niche audiences but jointly won't challenge the social leader.
Google+ is better and at least comprehensible now, but it's hard to imagine seeing it reach the critical mass of users required to make it a real Facebook rival. It might build up a community of people who like knitting Christmas sweaters in Communities or house a lively dialogue on the coming elections in Collections, but it won't be a place where everyone has to be.
The search giant was right that it needed to simplify Google+, but it misjudged exactly how far it needed to go. That leaves it with a better product that might make a mark or find an audience, but one that ultimately won't be a contender for the top spot.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Facebook. He's more social online than he is in real life. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, and LinkedIn. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.