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Saturday, July 9, 2011

What Google+ is (and what it isn't)

While I was at the beach last week, I began receiving messages from Google, telling me that this person or that person had added me to a circle on Google+. I'd heard rumors that Google was going to make another attempt at supplanting Facebook as the social network, but I figured this would be like their other attempts (like Buzz) and would quickly die.

Now I'm starting to think I was wrong.

You see, Google is doing something very smart this time around. They've added a black bar (the Google+ bar, as it's officially called) to the top of nearly every one of their pages. This means that if you use Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Maps, or even the basic Google Search page, you'll see that black bar. The black bar contains a direct link to your Google+ profile (here's my Google+ profile), as well as a notification box that lets you know if someone has added you to one of their circles (more on circles in a moment). The bar also includes a box (similar to Facebook's "What's on your mind?" box) where you can share links, videos, photos and/or your location.

Think about what this means.

Google has created a social network virtually overnight, and it's a social network that will be visible to millions of people every day as they do the things they were already going to be doing on the web anyway. To me, this makes Google+ an instant player in the social media world. It may not have the glittery popularity of Facebook -- yet -- but if marketed correctly, Google+ could become some serious competition to Mark Zuckerberg's social media empire.

You see, Google+ has one other thing going for it that Facebook has never had: Google+ values privacy.

When you start using your Google+ account, you'll see that all of your interactions with other people are done with circles. Circles are broad categories such as friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances that you use to organize your friends. Then, when you choose to share those photos of you and your family at the beach, or that video of you at that crazy birthday party over the weekend, you get to choose the circles that can see that content. Rather than making you opt-out of sharing something like Facebook does, Google+ lets you opt-in. This illustrates the difference between Facebook and Google+. Facebook believes everything you share should be visible to everyone, while Google+ believes that you should be able to choose what you share and who you share it with. This could be an important factor for people who value privacy, and are fed up with Facebook changing their privacy policies every month week day hour.

Google+ isn't a replacement for Facebook, at least not yet. Most of my friends haven't activated their Google+ profiles yet, so if I want to share something with them, Facebook is still the best way to do it.

Google+ also isn't the best place to promote your books, your business, your band, or whatever you're currently doing via Facebook pages. Maybe Google+ will have this feature in the future, or maybe they will want you to use circles to mimic this feature.

So ultimately, what do I believe about Google+?

I believe Google+ is a good start. It gives Google a beachhead in the social media landscape that's currently dominated by Facebook and Twitter. It may fail like nearly every other potential competitor to Facebook has failed. Or it may grow rapidly and become the central core to everyone's social media network. I suspect, however, that the end result will be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, and that Google+ will become yet another tool we all use to interact with friends/family/fans/customers in the virtual world.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go add more people to my Google+ circles.  :-)

Note: Since Google+ doesn't have fan pages, I've created a circle called "Fans of Scott Niven - Author". I've also created one called "Writers" for my writer friends. I'd love to add you to my circles, so visit my Google+ page to contact me: