As a bullshit merchant, I find it hard not only to discuss social media in general (where my currency is given away for free), but more specifically to even mention Google+ without sounding like some sort of herald for Schmidt’s dwarves. At first glance, it’s Facebook with a brand new stream (forgive the pun) of jargon terms for everything. Checklist for yet another Google attempt to get in on “all dem networking dollars”, go!
- Minimalist white design – CHECK
- Massive waste of browser window space on either sidebar – CHECK
- Monosyllabic name – CHECK
- False sense of exclusivity to raise hype – CHECK
Looking good so far, +. Now lets see if – unlike the other monster of the social networking world – you can have enough features to draw people away from the most ubiquitous login site of the last five years. Poking around even a tiny amount beyond the simple status update options and anyone with more vision than Helen Keller on a foggy day can see that this isn’t as simple as Google attempting to take over from Facebook. Oh no. It’s bigger than that. Within even the earliest version through beta testing, G+ contains the option to follow celebrities anonymously (a la Twitter). By adding anyone (I chose Mark Zuckerberg because I’m just THAT witty and ironic) to a circle, you don’t force your updates down their throat. Where once in FB we all added friends and could see what each other had for lunch, now it needs to be mutual in order for either side to see the others. BOTH parties must opt in for two way communication. Not only that, but unlike FB and surely to the joy of the privacy freaks, almost all features default to the most private option, with the bizarre exception of Hangouts – more on that further down the page.
Sparks is best described as a news aggregator, with the user defining the categories of stories they want to see on their stream. This strikes me as a cross between a hyper-simplified Stumbleupon and a content-only take on Reddits “add to frontpage” feature for its sub-forums. In time it could be the feature that sets G+ apart, but at the moment it seems far too crude and wide open to be of any real use. I’ve surely not given it enough time yet to explore how far it can be taken, but for anyone that’s never seen something along the lines of Digg, Fark or Reddit it could be mindblowing.
Lastly comes Hangouts, the group video chat system that’s forced a full triumvirate of internet giants to shit their pants, join hands, and rock back and forth crying and chanting “There’s no place like 2008” repeatedly. Google+ has this feature working (almost) perfectly within days of public launch, and as a result not only has Facebook teamed up with Microsoft AND Skype in a mostly disastrous attempt to mimic and replicate as quickly as possible, but has been shown up for the horrendously buggy piece of wankware that anyone using FB’s text-chat feature has always suspected it was. I for one have already spotted friends of mine not paying enough attention to the fact that it defaults to share to all contacts, not that I think anyone would use video chat for anything other than professional, harmless conversations. Ha. Hahaha.
Anyway, the long and the short is this. Google has now left the invite button open for a whole evening in Eurozone time, meaning they’re probably ready to throw open the floodgates. The challenge now is to retain all the incoming users, as the two groups they’ll have trouble keeping are pretty obvious
- All those parents that you spent exasperated hours showing how to use facebook? Yeah, they’re not going anyway. There’s an army of (predominantly) +40s for whom FB is the ONLY social network they’ll ever use. They’re not coming across unless dragged, and I suspect that they’re a major part of the reason for younger users to move in the first place. After all, how much fun can pictures of last night be if your folks can see it?
- The vast majority of FB users are, for better or worse, Zynga fans. If G+ is going to keep them away from the established network they need to have some sort of massively new (or seemingly so, at least) feature to justify forcing the, ahem, less tech-savvy to go to the effort of moving without just throwing up the hands and jumping back.
A quick recap. Google+ is an attempt to encapsulate Facebook, Twitter, Skype, News aggregators, and anything else that is de rigeur for the mdoern web user. It’s the shape of things to come, and I’m about to make the kind of prediction that no writer should ever make. 50% of current FB users spending more time over on Google+ than Facebook within 18 months.
Watch this space, before I’m replaced with GoogleKav.