Social networks have become the new reality TV. One social network after another has cropped up all over the internet, attempting to replicate the success of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, MySpace. There has been much debate over whether Google+ will have that same impact as these popular social networks or whether it’s just another in a slew of failed copycats. I’m leaning towards the former for three reasons: privacy, simplicity, integration, and functionality.
Facebook has lost a lot of trust from its users over the years from repeated attempts to make privacy controls flexible, yet transparent. And they haven’t gotten there yet. Facebook has faced a lot of criticism in this area, and Google+ is primed to outshine them in this arena. Google is well known for clear and easy privacy, and Circles is set to be exactly that. You control with every post what circles and extended circles (friends of friends in Facebook terminology) can access.
I am constantly annoyed with the mess and difficulty in navigating Facebook. There is one thing that Google consistently does well: keep complex systems simple enough not to get lost in. Even when Gmail started to become just a little too cluttered, Google recognized the need for simplicity and delivered with its new themes and consistent look across Google products. Google+ so far follows suite with that consistent simplicity. And, with Google+ requiring no additional signup process from your other Google products, it’s likely to attract users that don’t want more accounts or are lost when they enter Facebook or Twitter.
Facebook had a limitation to start with. It was a stand-alone product. To integrate it with other products, it has had to patch together a secure interaction with third-party products that is often fickle. I don’t know how many times a day I have to re-login to Facebook with one of my iPhone or iPad apps. Google+, on the other hand, will be instantly connected to a slew of powerful Google tools, with a huge potential for Google+ to change how we use those other tools (sharing Google Docs with circles, sending emails to circles, telling Google Voice to treat different circles differently).
The last reason that Google+ is likely to share the stage with social networks, like Facebook, has to do with the functionality it can provide. Using circles as the core of Google+ is an innovative approach to social networking. Circles have the potential to allow for targeted information disaggregation. In other words, you can send information only to those who really need it, without having to constantly hand pick people from your address book. For marketing purposes, this can mean targeted updates to your customers. For internal communications, that means you can setup circles so that you can quickly send updates just to those who need them. This functionality, if combined with integration of the other Google products, could make Google+ a useful business tool as well as a social network.
It’s always hard to predict whether innovations will take off or crash and burn, but Google+ is likely to leave a lasting mark.
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