It’s been about a month since Google unveiled their latest attempt at “going social” and introduced the world to Google+. It certainly sparked a lively discussion on Twitter and Facebook: Did you get an invite? How do you get invites? What is this Google+ thing anyway?
Now, after the initial flurry of excitement and curiosity has settled a bit, it’s a little easier to see what Google+ actually entails, whom its users are, and how far it has spread.
That Google yet again tries its hand at social media is both expected and unexpected. Google, with its countless products and services, is an indispensable part of the daily routine for most of us. Think of your email, RSS feeds, calendars, documents, images, and YouTube, just to name a few. When Google+ launched on 28 June, many felt that Google finally tied all the loose ends together and offered a service that incorporated all the other products.
What is Google+?
To put it simply, Google+ is based on a user’s Gmail account. Right now, it’s an invitation-only service. Once you’ve created a Google+ profile, you can add other users into “circles”. These circles do not imply mutual contact like on Facebook – you can add people to your circles without them doing the same for you, similar to the way you can follow people on Twitter without them following you back.
After this, you can share things like text, images, videos, or locations with the circles you’ve chosen. On your homepage, you can see a stream with the updates that have been made. You can choose to see updates from a particular circle or from “incoming”, the updates from those people that have added you to their circle, but that you haven’t decided to follow yourself. Moreover, you can also start “hangouts”, similar to video conferencing, and create “sparks”, a way to save searches on specific interests or topics for quick access.
According to reports, it took just three weeks for Google+ to reach 20 million users. However, the first wave of reviews was equal parts positive and negative. The majority of objections to Google+ were about being added to others’ circles. Author Neil Gaiman, who has over 1 million Twitter followers, gave up on Google+ after just two weeks. His reasons? It caused information overload, white noise, because he kept receiving messages telling him that he was added to someone’s circle. For a regular user, this might not be such a problem, but even amongst colleagues here at Mynewsdesk, some of which have large online networks, the remark “someone I don’t know has added me to their circle” has been heard more than once.
Facebook killer or Twitter killer?
It can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage to sort your updates according to different circles; using this function you can either share your updates with one group of people or with several. Joakim Jardenberg, CEO of Mindpark, a development agency that “promotes debate, development and evolution of all things media in Sweden”, compares the functionality to Facebook: “On Facebook, we use either an open or completely closed approach. There is no middle ground, because we just don’t have the energy to keep this up. People don’t want to sort their acquaintances into different groups. Every time you write something, you have to decide which group of people you want to share this with. It creates a false sense of security.”
But he does see some advantages to the circles function: “When I complain about my allergies, I only share this with my family and friends. But when I get interviewed by SvD, one of Sweden’s largest daily newspapers, I want to share the experience with all my circles.” In conclusion, however, Jardenberg believes that the time required to create and maintain circles isn’t worth the “reward” you get in return.
Others don’t think that Google+ is Facebook’s new main competitor. SEO expert Nikke Lindqvist believes that the open platform of Google+, coupled with the ability to publish updates longer than 140 characters, can be a real threat to Twitter. He is, like many others, critical of the fact that Google’s search engine is not integrated with your Google+ profile. However, Google specifically has specifically stated that Google+ is a work-in-progress and that more features and services will be integrated in the near future, as well as the ability to create profiles for companies, brands, or products.
Will it work?
In the end, it’s the number of active users that decide whether or not a social network is successful. At the moment, the masses are sitting pretty with Facebook (despite the occasional uproar about privacy settings) and the number of early adopters that have taken to Google+ is quite low – at least in Sweden. But, as social media consultant Sofia Mirjamsdotter says, sooner or later people will tire of Facebook, perhaps stemming for an ever-growing discontent. It might not necessarily be Google+ that tempts them away, but it will be very interesting to see how the situation develops over the coming months.
Others, like Al Tepper, are convinced that Google+ is the tomorrow’s dominant social network, mainly because of its ubiquity. There are so many daily users of Google’s products that Google+ is just another, quite low, threshold to step across. Essentially, Tepper believes that “Google+ is finishing what Facebook started and Twitter carried on. With Google+, the barrier to use is now as low as typing an email […] Google+ just gave email social wings. Google+ has just done for email what Twitter did for SMS.”
Only time will tell if Tepper is right and like many others, we’re following the developments very closely. But what do you think? Have you started using Google+? Is it the future or is it 2011’s big digital hype?