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4 Reasons Google+ Matters to The Average User

Google Plus LogoWhen I heard that Google was taking another stab at the social media network thing I kind of inwardly groaned and muttered something about about “another Buzz”. But I thought I should try it so I tricked an acquaintance into sending me and invite (shout out to @techguytom).

Now, I’m not technologically ignorant. I don’t send money to that friendly Nigerian Prince that keeps emailing me. I built my own computer from scratch. I tweet (@searlemike), I occasionally blog, and I love trying as many new technologies and services as I feel I have time to give a fair shot. I consider myself tech literate. But I’m also not a pundit. I’m not a technology superstar, or a social media guru, or any other term you can coin for an internet celebrity. So you might say that I represent the well-informed average user. I’m aware of what goes on in the technology and internet spheres, and though I don’t have any significant influence, I do have opinions about what I like and don’t like.

So, I’ve been messing with Google+ for a while now, and thinking about whether it really has a place in the life of the average user, and I’ve arrived at some conclusions that might be useful if you’re still trying to decide whether to give it a try. In no particular order, here they are.

Simplicity

Google+ is simple. Like dead simple. Back in the day when Myspace was a thing and Facebook was just becoming mainstream, I remember the comparison being made that Facebook was like Myspace, but simpler and cleaner. Well, Google+ is like that. It’s like Facebook, but simpler and cleaner. Actually, it IS simpler and cleaner, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s like Facebook. Not entirely anyway. Maybe that’s because there aren’t yet 750 million people clogging up its arteries and your stream with invitations to accept a pink cow, or to join their sorority. That day may well come once Google starts releasing more APIs, and encouraging more third party app development.

The level of engagement on Google+ right now is astounding. Once again that could be because there’s still a comparatively small number of users, and it might change when everyone and their whole extended family begins using it. But that’s part of the reason it doesn’t feel like Facebook. Because you can share something, and it really feels like the world is listening.

Control

Circles. Circles, circles, circles. Google’s implementation of categorizing your connections is precisely what has been lacking in social networks for the last several years. I have many “friends” on Facebook, but by and large they are limited to actual family and friends. There are a small handful of acquaintances, and virtually no co-workers. The reason is simple: There are some people with which I only want to share certain content. But Facebook’s all or nothing proposition doesn’t allow me that flexibility. I have to share content with all of my connections, but there are just some things that I know are only going to appeal to limited number of my connections.

So I’m faced with the choices of sharing what I will and some of it being seen by people whom I would rather not see it, or limiting my sharing to content that I believe is appropriate for all of my connections, or limiting my connections to a smaller group of people with which I believe I can share the lowest common denominator of content.  I’ve chosen door number three, and it’s worked fine, but it also severely limits my exposure to content from other people whom I’d like to follow.

In addition, Facebook’s privacy settings are a morass of confusing options and obtuse settings. You’d think it would be nice to have that kind of granular control, but it just makes it incredibly difficult to keep track of who can see what on your profile. The average user probably never spends more than a couple of minutes looking over their privacy settings, and the result on Facebook is that their content and data are probably visible to more people than they’d really like. And if recent history is to be relied upon, the reality is that regardless of how you set your privacy on Facebook, Zuckerberg and his crew are more than likely going to continue to remove more and more control over privacy regardless of whether you like it.

In contrast, the privacy settings for Google+ are incredibly simple and intuitive. The options are clear and concise, and Google even gives you the ability to see how your profile will look to other users based on the changes you make. It only took me a handful of clicks to adjust the few settings that needed modification. As long as Google maintains that structure for their privacy options, they’re definitely ahead in that race.

Integration

Google provides a ton of different services. They have apps for texting, location based apps, even apps for building 3D models. But at the end of the day, Google is a search company which makes their profit off of advertisement impressions. They do it by giving away their services for free, and then including their ads within their services. It’s a brilliant strategy, and I’m proof as I use dozens of their apps and as a result I probably see hundreds of their ads each and every day. But the one thing they’ve lacked is true integration between those services. Google+ could be the paradigm shift that changes that.

It’s no secret that Google reserves the right to glean information from the apps that their consumers utilize and mine that information to develop better targeted marketing. However, to this point their apps haven’t shared too much information between each other except for contacts. Now imagine that Google implemented sharing of virtually all data between their apps, and made recommendations based off of that data. For instance, you could send an email to a friend and mention a book you were reading. Google books would see that mention and automatically include a link to the book for your friend to check out. Or maybe you write a post on Blogger about your recent vacation to France. Google maps could automatically pull links about the towns you visited and locations you checked into, while Google translate converts the whole thing to French.

If you’re like me you listen to a lot of music. If I’m given the opportunity I’ll be listening to something for the better part of the day. I’ve always really liked the way that Last.Fm extensively tracks my music listening, but I dislike the way I have limited control over the actual music that the service plays. I’ve been using Google Music for a couple of weeks now, and I love the service, but if it could track my listening and allow me the option to include that history on my Google+ profile that would just be awesome. Not only that, but it would be one more way that Google could integrate services and increase advertising impressions. Maybe it could integrate with Google product search to show advertisements related to my listening habits? It could even simultaneously add concerts in which I might have a potential interest on my Google Calendar.

And what about Android apps? Google has a readymade ecosystem of apps that could also be integrated into Google+. And why not? Web apps are already becoming increasingly mainstream. I’m no code monkey, but I can’t imagine it would be all that difficult to tweak some settings to allow an Android app to run in the browser.

Portability

One thing Google has always prided itself on is their openness. Now, I’ve heard some good debates about whether they are truly completely open, but at the end of the day they’re more open than most other service providers. There’s some significant debate about who actually owns the data on your social networking profile. A lot of it comes down to whether or not you ever cease to be active online, and Facebook has essentially said that they don’t want to allow you to remove your content from the site because by virtue of you putting it there in the first place it has effectively become community property. There’s some validity to that argument, but as a consumer I don’t really care what happens to my online content once I die. What I care about is being able to take it with me while I’m still alive to use/need it.

Google+ not only allows you to do this, they actually make it easy. Just go to your account settings, and click on Data liberation. Then download individual .zip files of specific data, or everything all at once. That’s it. No tedious copying and pasting of old posts, no need for a third party application, just two clicks and done.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Facebook, and I don’t have any immediate plans to leave it. I use it regularly, and it has become one of several primary tools I use to stay in contact with the people I know. But the reality is that online communities come and go. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. I’m not predicting Facebook’s demise or anything, but it happens. Anyone remember AOL? Back in 1998 I never would have guessed that today AOL would be nothing more than just an example of how a tech giant bit the big one. I think the story of their failure could be summed up by saying that they forgot the most important part of their business and invested too heavily in the wrong things. What was it they forgot to invest in? The people, their users. I believe this was the same mistake that MySpace made.

People are never the last part of a success story, they’re always the first part of a success story.  And when companies forget that they lose out. People notice quickly when their wants and needs start becoming bypassed by a company’s love of the almighty dollar.

Facebook has done fairly well on this so far. Their advertising is mostly limited and unobtrusive. But their public relations leave a lot to be desired. The whole Facebook privacy fiasco is a perfect example of this. And their unwillingness to allow people to take their content with them is likely to become a more and more public failing. I think that the majority of people have begun to realize that for now and the foreseeable future our lives are going to be contained online. You can call it what you want, data points, social graph, whatever. At the end of the day you’re talking about my time and effort, and the content that I’ve created. I need to know that if whatever service I use goes belly up I’m not going to lose all of that time and effort. I need to know that I can take my content to whatever service I want and continue to use it. Google understands that need, and I think they pretty much always have.

So, what am I saying? Am I saying that Facebook is yesterday’s news and Google+ is the new king of the internet? No. What I’m saying is that Google+ get’s a lot of good things really right. There’s plenty of room to improve, but the service is still in its infancy. Google has the diversity to allow Google+ to grow and evolve over time, and they have the resources to survive when things get difficult. I don’t know if Google+ will seize the keys to the kingdom from Facebook’s hands,  or if it will sputter and die. But I’m willing to give it a chance, knowing that if things go south I still have at least a little control.

If you want a service that allows you greater control over the content you create and who you share it with, I’d recommend you check it out.  And if you have thoughts on the service I’d love to hear them.

Do you think Google+ is a Facebook killer?

How could it be improved?

  1. July 17, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Nice Article. Google + has a way to go but they’ll get there quickly.

    • Mike Searle
      July 17, 2011 at 9:08 am

      I agree. I think they’re well on their way already.

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