Initial Thoughts on Google+

The biggest news in social recently has been Google announcing their latest foray into social media: Google+. For those who still may not know, Google+ is a social network seen as a competitor to Facebook. I’m finally on there now after Google imposed a brief moratorium on sending out invites. Here are my initial impressions of it.

In the main, it is quite similar to Facebook.  Your home page is a news feed just like Facebook. But this one seems somehow cleaner. It’s not that you have less info (indeed, you have just about everything Facebook does), rather I think it is because Google+ uses bigger sizes for everything which make things easier to see. This makes things easier to read and, in turn, makes things easier to digest which gives it a less cluttered feel. One thing I like in particular is that when a posted photo shows up in your feed it’s a lot larger than in Facebook. They’re big enough that you almost don’t even need to enlarge them further by clicking on them.

The main feature of the site as a whole and what most strongly differentiates it from Facebook is that it gives you better control over how you can group and communicate to the different sorts of people in your life. As Facebook got bigger and bigger this became more of a concern as people were forced to add their buddies, their Grandmother and their boss all as “Friends”. With Google+ you can easily sort your contacts into different categories or Circles. You start out with four basic ones: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following (This is where someone’s public updates can show up in your feed but you can’t interact with them). You can also create custom ones based on your needs. You can do similar things on Facebook but Google+ really makes it much more easy and intuitive. The interface for Circles is one where you simply click and drag a person’s name and photo into a Circle, let it go, and they’re in. There is also a section on the left hand side of your feed that allows you to easily filter your updates so that you only see those from, say, your family. This may seem a small thing but it’s pretty nifty if you ask me especially in conjunction with the rest of the categorizing features. As far as feed updates go they are, again, similar to Facebook’s but since people might not be able to see them due to being in different Circles, Google+ gives you a Share link so that you can forward someone’s posts on to one or more of your circles.

Overall, Google is off to a good start and I’m sure it can get better. But the real question on everyone’s mind is whether this is a Facebook killer. My answer to that is no. Stranger things have happened of course. MySpace supplanted Friendster and Facebook subsequently surpassed MySpace. But the situation now is different. First off, Facebook is more entrenched and successful than those two ever were. Secondly, Zuckerberg & Co. have always been careful to update both the look and feel of the experience as well as adding new functionality so as not to become stale or outflanked by competition. So whatever Google can come up with Facebook will surely copy in short order if they want.

So why bother with creating a new social network at all (especially since you already have one with Orkut)? There’s a school of thought that says that the intent is not to topple Facebook but rather to further cloud computing and, more specifically, to further Google’s position as the gatekeeper to said cloud. The thinking is that Google+ can be a collaboration tool for individuals and companies especially once it’s fully integrated with Google’s other current (and future) products. So whereas Facebook’s social experience is about updating people on what you had for lunch, playing Word Twist, or sharing photos; Google+’s will be more about two people collaborating remotely on a PowerPoint presentation, sharing links to relevant articles, or using the Hangout feature to stage video conferences. I think that this or something similar to this way of thinking is probably correct. In the first place it’s a more differentiated and, therefore, more own-able position. Secondly, it has to do with the cloud and who better to attempt something like this than Google who is all about the cloud? It may seem ambitious but when you’ve been called the world’s most important company you get to be ambitious. It will definitely be interesting to see how things develop over the next year or so.

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