So if you have been semi-concious for the past few weeks you have heard of, if you’re not already using Google+. It is Google’s latest move into the social networking space following Google Buzz, Google Wave, Orkut, Google Profile, Jaiku, Google Friend Connect and Dodgeball – all have had variable degrees of success. Google is obviously looking at this as a priority and they are doing it because they are losing their grip on the real-time social Internet and need to become a big player in the social space so they can better target us with ads and search results. The site since it is still in limited Beta and they are still working on it but for those of you who haven’t been able to get an invite in – here are some thoughts on what you are missing. (And I have some invites left if anyone wants them – hit me up on Twitter and I be happy to send them along).
When you start using Google+ you see more than a passing similarity to the Facebook’s layout and functionality though there are a few key differences. The core part of the experience revolves around a Facebook style news feed called the Stream. To get content into your stream you have to add friends which can be organized into Circles which are the biggest point of differentiation and the best idea in Google+ even though it comes with a downside. Circles allows you to group friends into categories like Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Work, etc. and you can then decide when you post something which Circles you want to share it with. This level of curation and content control is something that has always been a huge problem with Facebook and forced user to curate their overall friends list instead of individual content entries. This means that you probably don’t want to be friends with your boss or parents on Facebook because once they are in you can’t control which posts they can and can’t see.
So while the first part of the process looks and acts like Facebook, following your friends and getting your own followers is much more like Twitter because you can follow anyone and they can follow you without the need for their approval. This clash of two different social media conventions from two different sites creates an interesting and even confusing scenario. Since the site so clearly looks like Facebook I found myself treating the content like Facebook and I was posting vacation photos and other content I would normally put on my Facebook wall. The problem was that I wasn’t paying attention to which Circles I was sharing that content with so things I would normally never put on Twitter because they was personal I was sharing with the whole world and strangers were commenting on my vacation photos. It only had to happen once before I started paying a lot more attention to how I shared content and which Circles were selected when I posted anything. I think this is something that this is going to be a common problem and it is something that Google is going to need to find a way to address so that people understand this new dynamic.
But after spending a lot of time using and looking at how other people are using Google+ I just don’t see what the killer feature that is going to make people want to spend less time on Facebook and Twitter because those sites are such entrenched social routines by now. I just look at the group of friends of I have on Google+ which I think represent a hardcore early adopter community thus the most likely to take up a new site like this but after the buzz of the invite only access and initial exploration time wore off I get one new content post per day from that group. I also checked to see if that was a result of overall social media complacency but found that while they were silent on Google+ they all remained very active on Facebook and Twitter. So if I get nothing but the sound of crickets from a that group then I think that it’s a bellwether that the average person isn’t going to care about Google+ when they see it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Only time will tell if Google still have an ace up their sleeve and will roll out some feature that will change everything but for now I think once the invite only access to the site expires this site might very well go the way of all of Google’s other social media experiments.