|Column: The low-down on Google+|
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 15:40
Google+ for me is like the bizarre lovechild of Facebook and Tumblr, raised by Twitter.
It's the new social network on the block, and there's no doubt that it's caused quite a stir. Invites are being auctioned off on eBay, Facebook is scrambling to release new services and pictures of other social networks being slapped around are circling the Net. Early adopters are hailing the brilliance, lawyers are affirming the openness of the Ts&Cs, and Google fans are marveling at the (almost) seamless integration of all the other Google services.
The average man in the street, meanwhile, is standing wide-eyed watching the chaos and wondering: why do I want another social network?
The simple answer is: because it's Google.
Google came out of nowhere at the end of the last century and changed our lives. It made search easy, but it also gave us other services: gmail, gtalk, maps, books, calendars, documents... everything we could possibly want online. The one thing that the Internet giant didn't have though, was social. Sure, it had groups - a great mailing list system. But Yahoo! also had groups. No one is singing Yahoo!'s praises any more.
Google tried. Like some fabled monarch trying over and over again to win the hearts of the people and failing. Wave was too obscure, Buzz was shot down due to privacy issues. Google just couldn't pull its people's attention away from the rising power that was Facebook.
Google has brought out the big guns with Google+. It has used the lessons it's learned from its previous failures, it has used the advice it's picked up from Facebook's critics, it has, most importantly, used the fact that it already has you in its grasp. Why would you look at Facebook when you get alerted to messages on Google+ whenever you check your mail or log on to YouTube? And reply to them from within those other services?
That's the simple answer. You'll use Google+ because you are already using Google. You don't really have much of a choice.
The more complex answer is because Google's previous failures were a blessing in disguise. To the company, and to us. They gave Google the chance to see what people really wanted (and didn't want).
The new product takes things into consideration that Facebook never bothered to: people want simple, intuitive interfaces; people's lives are segmented - they don't want everyone to see everything they post; people want to be able to edit their photographs within the interface, after uploading them. It took ideas from every social network and blogging site out there and combined it all.
Google's plan, it seems, is not for you to add yet another social network to your life, but to replace every single social network in your life with one.
If you're not already using Google+, this is how it works:
Imagine Facebook. It looks just like Facebook. It works just like Faceboook. Except, when you add people as friends you get to choose where they fit in your life by adding them to "circles". You can have a friend circle, a work circle, even a circle of people you don't like at all. When you read your "stream" (which is the Google word for newsfeed), you can choose whether to read what everyone is saying, or just people in a particular circle. When you post items you can choose who gets to read them. You have complete control.
When reading your combined stream it's a lot like reading a Twitter stream, but without being limited to 140 characters. When you see someone has posted something you like, you can repost it - but you can also choose who it gets reposted to.
For a complete, combined network of everyone you've ever known or been interested in, Google+ is great.
But there are still some things that Google has failed to take into account. Firstly, people might not want a combined network of everyone they've ever met, even if they can share different things with different people. Sometimes it's nice to hide behind a username and talk only to strangers -- Google+ doesn't allow that.
Another issue is that Facebook is already so established. People have their whole lives there and are they really going to make the move? Is what Google is offering different enough to make it worth it?
And then there is social networking fatigue. The world at large might be starting to suffer from it. Newspapers were reporting that users were leaving social networks by the droves before Google+ was even announced. Has Google brought out its new service too late?
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