Google+, for those of you who have missed it, is the latest attempt by Google to create their own social network. Google+ places itself more-or-less directly between the already established Facebook and Twitter.
It aims to solve some of the privacy concerns that have been voiced by Facebook users through its ‘Circles’ feature and it also aims to replicate the open/conversational nature of Twitter by allowing you to ‘follow’ (not their terminology) anyone who has a profile on Google+. The Circles feature essentially allows you to define groups of users and then choose what content/activity you share with those groups. I started writing a longer explanation but on reflection Google+ as a platform (as with lots of Google’s products) works far better through experience rather than explanation.
Brief moan/warning about social networks
One thing that has struck me of late is the amount of time people invest in some of these platforms (Facebook in particular), using them as address books/photos albums/diaries – which is fine, BUT in almost every case the platform/network provider will claim partial (or complete) ownership of everything you do/say/upload on their network, it’s worrying how many people either don’t realise this or don’t seem to care…or perhaps I just worry too much?
This paragraph from the Guardian’s ‘1 month review‘ struck me as particularly worrying:
“I’m also disappointed by what I’ve learned about the service’s security. Although communications are encrypted, Google’s responses to my questions about government spying on users were not encouraging. The company does not deny that: a) it can record users’ text and video conversations even when they are, in theory, shared by only two people; and b) it will give government agencies the ability to tap these conversations as well. Google has to abide by the law, and it has a track record of resisting overweening government efforts to spy on US citizens”
Anyway, this debate deserves its own post really, the issue of online privacy and ownership of content is huge (in my opinion). Social networks are still such a new concept that we still don’t seem to have decided what is and isn’t acceptable regarding terms of service etc.
Although I’m probably never going to use Hangouts on a day to day basis I can see this feature potentially (maybe) rivalling Skype for easy, free video communication.
Circles is a great feature, much easier than creating a list on Twitter or a Friends Group on Facebook – although it is a little arduous dragging and dropping contacts one-by-one into one or more Circles. It’s very intuitive and a great way to choose how to share content in a more nuanced way than on the other big social networks.
Sparks has great potential but at the moment I think it’s a little too clunky, I’d like to be able to see all my Sparks content in the one place (as you can with contacts in the Stream view) as well as being able to view it by individual category.
Ultimately, for me, I use social networks as a place to have conversations and access content recommended/shared by people I trust/admire/find interesting. I don’t feel comfortable uploading huge collections of photos or video, so those elements of Google+ have absolutely no interest for me and I haven’t looked at them. Google+ seems to make conversations quite easy without the constraints (140 characters) of Twitter. At the moment though there just simply aren’t enough people on Google+ to consider swapping away from Twitter. I also do like Twitter’s brevity – making it ideal to communicate whilst on the move via the many, many (many) mobile apps. Although apparently the Google+ mobile app is also very good, so maybe there is more of a crossover than I’m seeing at the moment.
It’ll also be interesting to see how Google approaches bringing brands/organisations onto the platform, they have already said that they are rushing through development of that aspect of things. I’d also like to see an API opened up to developers, as we have seen with Twitter and Facebook with great success.
So, those are my thoughts, I think as a social network Google+ does have some new and interesting ways of doing things, if the userbase continues to grow at the ridiculous pace we’ve seen since it launched a month ago (20 million users and counting) then it’ll be interesting to see who it starts taking market share from, or whether it’s seen as another complimentary platform that can sit alongside the already established big players.