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Google+ is what could possibly be considered Google’s third attempt at Social networks. With the failure of Wave and Buzz, is Google+ going to make it this time? My first knee-jerk reaction to it was that it’s a Facebook AND Twitter killer, and after the short amount of time I’ve used it, and not knowing any better than to write about something you’ve not used long enough, I’ll give my opinion. If I’m right and this thing takes off, I’ll be a Social Expert. If I’m wrong, I’m not a Social Expert. And?

Why do I need Twitter AND Facebook?

One of the main reasons I use Twitter (having passed the phase of “Wheels Down/Up in AGP”) is for “professional” reasons.  And I put professional reasons in quotes, in the sense that I mostly use it to interact with people regarding software development which is my field, as well as things related to my job (JetBrains and our products). These include discussions on specific topics, providing help, the occasional opinion on technologies and once in a blue moon a political or religious statement. I interact with all sorts of people on Twitter, people I follow and those I don’t.

Why do I use Facebook? Primarily to interact with friends. I try and keep a low number of people on Facebook, mostly those people that I have at some point met personally. I also use Facebook when I want to say something a little longer than 140 characters, as well as topics that are not directly related to my field.

Hello Circles

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With Google+ you have the concept of Circles. You place your family, friends, acquaintances and followers in different circles. When you send a status update, you can make it public, or send it to a specific group. When you post a picture or a video, you can target specific circles or people. You can create your own circles, even a list of blocked people. What this means for me is that G+ now allows me to interact with both groups: those I talk to on Twitter and those I communicate with on Facebook.

It also opens up other benefits as I’ll mention later on.

But…but Facebook has lists

Yes it does. Did you know about them? I didn’t. The problem with Facebook lists was that it wasn’t staring me in the face. Now some argue that the reason for this is that Facebook aims at making it extremely easy for people to use. I think that’s nonsense. There’s a difference between creating systems that are easy to use and treating users in a condescending way.  The argument that my mother won’t understand Circles doesn’t hold. My mother is over 70 years old and she has a blog, uses Windows Live Writer and a whole bunch of other applications. If she knows how to paste an image with WLW and set tags, I’m sure she’ll understand what a Circle is.

The reason for lists not being in your face in Facebook is most likely because Facebook’s policy is for you to share as much as you can, publicly. If it’s about making a simple user interface, explain to me why they make it so extremely hard to change privacy settings? In our field, we have a saying “Security through Obscurity”. It’s not about making things simple.

With G+, circles are there from day one, in your face. G+ is giving you the option to choose. It also prompts you to who you want to post a status update, including defaulting to last used:

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Finally, people have circles of friends, not lists of friend. Psychologically, the term circle resonates.

It’s missing the Charm of Twitter

Why is Twitter successful? Well if we define successful as a business generating profit, then Twitter really isn’t successful. If we talk about success in that millions of users are using it, then yes, it is. One of the the prime thing that pushes Twitter to success however is the concept of followers. We are all humans and we have egos and we like to be noticed. The concept of having thousands of followers seems to attract many. That is an advantage Twitter has over Facebook. With Facebook, if you want to be loved, you either set up a Fan Page (which very rarely people do), or accept everyone has a friend, which becomes a bit too busy.

G+ however allows you to have the best of both worlds. When someone adds you to their circle, you don’t need to add them back, thus allowing you to drive up your ego, while keeping the noise to a minimum. You can also follow people without being acquainted to them, by placing them in the Follower circle.

But I like 140 Characters

Please, have we stooped so low as a society that we need to express ourselves with 140 characters? Worse yet, have we become so completely and utterly mindless that we actually need that enforced by a software system. If you don’t want to type more than 140 characters, don’t! If you don’t want to read more than a 140 characters don’t. Personally however, I’m getting tired of “Sorry 140 chars is really hard to express myself”. It’s become the perfect excuse to run from a debate.

There is no Tweetdeck

If you’re using Tweetdeck exclusively to post to Facebook and Twitter, why are you posting to both? Won’t G+ solve that problem with Circle? If you’re using Tweetdeck like I do for instance to handle multiple accounts, yes then there’s a problem.

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However, G+ has no concept of Company account or Fan page as of yet, so we can cross that bridge when we get to it.

Google+ is filled with nerds only, not my friends

The argument that G+ will not be successful because it is limited to invites and nerds is quite ludicrous, yet seems to be repeated time and time again. Whatever the reason that G+ is closed currently to those with an invite (which recently also includes those with a Gmail account), is temporary.

In fact, it actually even works to Google’s favor, just like it has with many other services. Everyone wants to be part of an “exclusive” club. Gmail itself for quite sometime was a closed group. As G+ grows, it will open up.

Regarding the nerds, let’s not forget that many of the current social networks were initially limited to nerds and geeks.

The limited group is temporary, and as more people join, it will just become bigger. Will it reach the (what 700 Million now?) users Facebook has in a year? Probably not. But I think it will grow faster than many expect it to.

G+ has no Developer Story

Another criticism I’ve read about G+ is that there’s no API. Facebook is a platform for building applications on. Twitter is also a platform for…..getting screwed. Yes, this is true, G+ does not have an API story but it’s still early days. I’m sure it will come.

Some more of G+ Benefits

Conversations

Personally I’m tired of not being able to follow a conversation on Twitter. With G+, much like Facebook, I can now do that. I can read an entire thread. I can participate. Some have mentioned that this also allows others to participate in a conversation and that it’s not really “social”, that somehow Google doesn’t get it. Let’s not forget that Twitter initially allowed you to view all conversations, not only when you were following all people involved in the conversation (as it is now). When Twitter made this change, the Internet was in uproar. People threatened to leave Twitter. They said Twitter had lost all the social aspect and that you couldn’t now discover new followers or be discovered. Yet now they defend it?

Instant Notifications

Apart from G+ benefit of combining Twitter and Facebook, it also has some other ones. It’s integrated with other Google services. If you use Gmail or Google as a search engine, you instantly get a notification icon in the top bar indicating status updates.

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This allows you to turn off notifications via email. It also allows you to not be sent an email on EVERY single post someone else makes to a post or comment you’ve made, which can be quite annoying. The number of times I’ve not made a comment on a post so as to not be bombarded with notifications. G+ lets you fine-tune all that:

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Security

This is again inline with circles. How many times have we heard on the news how people have posted about going on Holiday’s or going out for the night, only to come home to find their house being burgled. If you have the desire to let your friends know when you’re leaving and coming back, you can do so by limiting it to those that you really trust by using the correct circle.

Hangouts

G+ has the concept of Hangout area, where it uses a webcam (which pretty much everyone has these days) and your microphone to allow you to speak to other people in the hangout area (think of it as a room). You can start a hangout area or join an existing one. Forgetting the social aspect of this, multi-cast video conferencing for meetings is a big win in and of itself.

It’s Google

Recently Google’s agreement with Twitter to offer real-time content in searches expired. Was this due to G+ or not, no one will know. With G+, Google doesn’t have that problem. It’s Google. It controls the searches. It will be able to provide real-time info if the case arises. In addition it can also provide other G+ features:

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not to mention “sponsored” ads.

Summary

As I mentioned previously, many of the posts reviewing G+ recently are judging it based on the fact that it’s closed, beta and also it’s too complicated for the average user. G+ is as complicated as one wants to make it, which is sometimes influenced by conflicting interests.

The only potentially “complicated” or “nerdy” thing about G+ right now is Circles. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that when it comes to settings, both concerning privacy as well as general ones, G+ is far simpler and less obscure than Facebook.

If our mothers and fathers learnt how to use Gmail, Twitter or even their phones, they’ll “get” G+. Let’s not be too condescending. Users are not stupid.

[Update]: I updated the post in regard to the ownership of content. Apparently G+ screws up here too. The Legal Notices of Picassa (which it uses for photo sharing) said that you owned all rights to content. However, as someone pointed out in the comments, the TOS says pretty much the same as Facebook, which in my book is a big negative to G+.

  • Much of the comments I’ve made in this post in reference to reviews of G+ are posts I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. As and when I find them, I’ll add references to them. Unfortunately I didn’t keep the links, but it’s all there…just Google it!