What's up, Google Plus?

There's a new kid on the social networking playground this year. Google's gone social with the introduction of Google Plus. It's been hailed as Google's "Facebook-killer" and Google's "answer to Facebook" by so many people that by now it's a meaningless cliche. The weird thing is, as anyone who has used Plus knows, it's not a damn thing like Facebook.

Facebook was founded on the belief that everyone in your life has the same relationship to you: they're a friend. That made sense when Facebook was in its infancy and was used solely as a way for college students to cyberstalk each other, but as its user base has grown, that model didn't work any more. People didn't want their parents seeing their party photos, their bosses to seeing them complaining about work, or to bombard their friends with photos of the family barbecue. Features to accommodate this division of relationships have been added after the fact, and have resulted in an inelegant system that still has the reciprocal "friend" relationship at its core.

Google Plus, on the other hand, aimed to reflect real-life relationships from the start. Waaaayyyyy back in 2010, a Googler put together a slideshow about what was wrong with social networks at the time: namely, that they didn't reflect the different types of relationships that everyone maintains. Google Plus calls these groups and relationships "circles." When you "add" someone on Google Plus, you actually just put them in a circle. There are the usual default circles - family, friends, etc - but you can make your own, too. Circles themselves are little more than labels you apply to people, but they are a very powerful tool for how simple they are.

Unlike Facebook where you friend someone and then optionally add them to a list, in Plus the act of adding them also puts them into a category. Then, you can make posts that only people in that circle can see, or only people from certain circles, or everyone you have circled. That's all great, but here's the best part: someone doesn't have to add you back in order for you to receive their public posts in your stream.

That means you can "follow" someone on Plus without being their friend or without them having to set up a "Page." That's why I've always said that Plus was never intended to be a Facebook-killer. Facebook is already well-established as the place for people to share baby stories and barbecue pictures. Instead, I insist that Google has set its sights on Twitter.

The attraction of Twitter is that you can just follow anyone without them having to follow you back, meaning you can follow interesting accounts maintained by celebrities, comedians, scientists, writers, and all kinds of others. The attraction of Facebook is that you can share private information with people who you are close to. The beauty of Plus is that it seamlessly brings together both "following" and privacy.

Has Plus replaced Facebook for me? No, not really. Facebook is far too popular for people to migrate away from it. If I want to keep in touch with family, I pretty much have to use Facebook. So what do I use Plus for? Well, the thing is, Facebook isn't really that interesting. Let's admit it, the quality of posts on a typical Facebook feed aren't that high. These days, my Facebook feed is full of meme images, party photos, pictures of people posing for their webcams, and links to music videos. Captivating stuff, right? My Plus stream is full of links to interesting scientific, technological and psychological articles, podcasts, blog posts, art, jokes, intelligent rants, discussions of social causes, and meme images.

Okay, so you can't have it all, but my point still stands: interesting people are interesting, and the chances are pretty low that the kid you had seventh grade math with is extremely interesting. So, I use Google Plus as a way to have more personal contact with folks I've met online, and as a midpoint between Twitter and an RSS feed. It's not that it's replaced any social networking service, but rather it created a new niche in my life that it fills perfectly.

Long live Plus!

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What's up, Google Plus?
  1. I +1'd this... can't decide whether that's ironic or not...

  2. Raz: I think the most ironic would be if you had Facebook-like'd it. ;) hehe.

  3. haha. the G+ kid with medikit is cute. :3

  4. Haha, I was going for lunchbox, but it DOES Look like a med kit, doesn't it? oops!

  5. Yea, G+ would be wonderful if anyone used it. Also, its limited functionality means it's hard to use it as a facebook competitor. If they had marketed it differently, it may have gone over a little better.

    My issue with it, though, is that it's suddenly too much for me. Google knows a lot about me. It knows what I search for, it knows who my friends are, it knows about my email, etc etc. But Google+ takes all of that information and tries to cater to you with it. It will reccommend articles, and it automatically sorts and organizes your friends. Add in the fact that you can't remove yourself from someone else's circle, and it becomes a privacy nightmare. I know that the Google staff probably can't see a lot of this, but my brain hurts when I visit my G+ feed. The sheer audacity of it is insulting.

    And that's why I don't use it. Though I think if you weren't LITERALLY THE ONLY PERSON who has ever posted on it, I would also be a little more engaged.

  6. That's understandable; I know a lot of people have been interested in the platform but haven't been able to convince their friends/family to move over.

    I don't see it as a problem that you can't remove yourself from someone's circle, because as long as you don't circle them, all they can see are your public posts! It's just like if you ignore a friend request on Facebook. It's not like they can suddenly see your private posts.

    I do get annoyed by the integration with other products like Search, though. While I mey value a friend's opinion on whether or not a certain movie was good, I really don't care if they happened to like [irrelevant page that shares a single keyword with my search term] because that doesn't answer my query. Personalized search results have resulted in worse results for me, rather than better ones. >:(


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