Exploring Google+, the just released social networking service from Google is like walking through an unfinished house. The frame is there but it’s missing the people and pictures on the walls that make it a home. As the invites roll out and more people sign up though, that’s sure to change. Still, even just the basic frame of the social network is enough to indicate that Google may have created something that can finally hold its own against Facebook.
Google+, while similar in many respects to Facebook, offers important differences that could appeal to users wary of sharing too much of their information online. The service allows you to organize your friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family members in separate social spheres. It then gives you control over which content is shared with whom. Your contacts don’t see which social “circle” of yours they’ve been placed in, so the focus is more on the actual communication and sharing happening in your circles and less on the conversations that you are not involved in directly. At least that’s what I extrapolate from the brief time I spent playing around with the service last night.
For a brief tour of the Google+ project, check out the video below, Adria Richards’ first look at Google+.
The technology is only half the picture. And how or whether people actually use the circles, hangout, and sparks features remains to be seen. For me though, I appreciate a social network that accommodates the various flavours of human relationships I encounter in my daily life – beyond the simple, and now meaningless, online brand of “friend”. With the status out of the way, the emphasis is on the interaction. As one review eloquently put it, it seems less “‘Love me! Love me!’ and more ‘People I love: Let’s chill.’” Whether Google+ lives up to this ideal remains to be seen.
Every social networking service is what you make of it and I imagine both the engineering of the site and the personalities who use it make all the difference. Still I am excited and optimistic about Google’s latest contribution to the social media landscape.
Long live our benevolent corporate overlords!