Now, I don’t consider myself the biggest devotee to social networks, though I do appreciate their value and/or importance. I was on MySpace (briefly), hit Facebook when it was only offered to a select group of schools, joined Twitter after a bit of hesitancy, and now I’m on Google+ as well. Yeah, I’ve probably missed one or two, but I don’t feel like I’m losing out on much.
I’ve always been a Google admirer. I say admirer instead fan as I’m not sure I agree with all of Google’s practices, but it’s hard to ignore all the innovation that has come from that company. My favorite “told you so” story is reminding my father, and anyone else who is bored enough to listen, that I said he should get in on the IPO. Alas, it was “overpriced” – and sure, it might have been, but there’s some value added since!
As a regular user of both Facebook and Twitter, and having helped bring Twitter into a major policy organization here in D.C., I have seen the strengths and weaknesses of both. After just a few hours of playing around in Google+, I can see that Google has managed to largely pull the strengths from each platform, while giving it a few unique new twists that will surely keep people interested and also most likely send competitors scrambling for comparative enhancements to their services.
Circles (so easy yet so important): A simple concept that could revolutionize how people communicate online by making it more like how we communicate in person. On Facebook there are some ways to limit how you send things, but in general your friends are your friends. If we’re being honest, those with 1,500 friends don’t really consider all of them close friends.
Though less personal than Facebook, and thus perhaps better for promotion and general interaction, Twitter has its disadvantages too. One is also probably its greatest advantage, simplicity. Simplicity is great for certain activities, and when combined with the multiple add-on services that feed out still and video imagery it can of course be a very powerful tool. But unless you want to log into several sites to get there, you’re largely sending a text message that disappears into an abyss after it’s made.
With Google+ there are zillions (ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration) ways to categorize both what you send, what you view, and how you manage that information in a way that can be easily referenced again in the future. Speculation is that organization pages will follow a similar format, allowing for targeted messages to multiple audiences.
The “hangout”: I know I sure don’t want to sit in a video chat with tons of people I don’t know, but businesses, organizations and public figures do. Social media has made the idea of accountability and availability paramount in any successful large-scale endeavor. Being able to hold virtual town halls with ease will not only bring more people together that would otherwise remain disparate, it will allow more voices and the ideas shared on them to be heard.
Integration: Google is a behemoth of a company. It’s the best or headed there when it comes to search (duh!), interactive mapping, sharing video (YouTube), mobile computing, and so much more. It’s hard to imagine an Internet without everything that Google brings to it — in some ways, Google is the Internet. With the multi-faceted and always growing Google platforms, the edges of Google+ seem basically limitless. The integration factor can also drive business to other parts of Google or Google affiliates. For instance, I use and like flickr for photo storage and sharing, but now I’m wondering if Picassa (soon to be Google Photos) is a better avenue given how it’s tied to Google+.
+1: When a +1 feature recently came to the message board I helped create many years ago, I hated it. In fact, it never really worked and we removed it as the “buddy system” proved too strong. It’s highly likely that similar will occur on the Google+ platform itself, but as a feature throughout the Web it can be harnessed as a tool to build stronger artificial intelligence in search and “preference” algorithms. Since about 70% of Web searches originate at Google, the multitudes of +1s should, in theory, give us a better product wherever user information is valued (not just for search!).
What is missing right now: These all seem to be mostly growing pains in the preliminary “pre launch” phase. As Twitter has taught (or at least reminded) us, real-time search is a must. It’s coming. Even though some companies such as Ford have gone around the “user must be a person” policy, organization/company/public figure pages are a must. They’re coming. An iPhone app is a must – living in the real world of social networking means being able to share images and video away from your desk. It’s coming, and expected to be similar to the application for Droid which has received good reviews.
Of course, the downside to all this might be that Google ends up building an even more comprehensive database on all of our lives. Well, in the spirit of congeniality, I welcome our Google overlords – it’s probably better than some of the alternatives.