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A Primer on Google+

July 29, 2011

What is it?

There is no way around it. When you talk about Google+ you have to compare it to Facebook. On the surface, it is largely the same: you connect with people you know and you can communicate with many people at once via posted ‘updates’ which other people see in their ‘stream’ which are similar to Facebook’s ‘news feed’. There are two key differences, however, that make Google+ the Yin to Facebook’s Yang.

1. When you post an ‘update’ (or link, picture, or video) in Google+, you can easily exclude certain groups of people from seeing it. You can spare acquaintances your vacation pictures while sparing your friends from work-related matters.

2. No one can post on your ‘wall’. When someone looks at your wall, they only see the posts that you put there and furthermore, only the ones that you allow them to see. Grandma gets to see the ‘nice’ pictures while your friends get to see the ‘niiiice’ pictures.

If this doesn’t sound like much, you’re not alone. The change in structure is subtle; it is only the implications that are huge. And that is the fundamental problem with Google+: it’s tough to precisely explain why it is so good.

What does this really mean?

You know how everyone jokes nervously about their mother joining Facebook? You know how nearly everyone has made the mistake of adding a boss or coworker to Facebook? You know how everyone suffers over adding or subtracting ‘friends’ from Facebook? Those three simple examples illuminate the fundamental structural flaw of Facebook and conversely, the fundamental strength of Google+. Google+ eliminates the aforementioned problematic scenarios by allowing users to compartmentalize your network into various ‘circles’. For example, you can place grandma into your ‘family’ circle and your boss in the ‘coworkers’ circle. Next time your status update says: “Skipping Boss’s BBQ to go to grandma’s”, you can post it to your ‘family’ and ‘friends’ circles and your boss will never see it.

It is a bit of a chore to compartmentalize people into ‘circles’, but in the end, it is a powerful tool that REALLY allows you the freedom to connect with everyone you know without the strings of over-sharing or over-receiving from your contacts. Google+ has the underpinnings of the ultimate social network.

The irony here is that Google+ is the smaller social network but the structure is such that it is what Facebook wanted to be; the ultimate social network. In Google+, you REALLY can add everyone as a ‘friend’ because you can sort them into categories and selectively communicate with them (or not) whether they are close friends, coworkers, networking contacts, family, celebrities, etc.

Should I join Google+ and leave Facebook

Yes and no, respectively. If you are like most Facebook users, you have many friends and pictures on Facebook and there is no point in ever leaving. But here’s why you should consider adding Google+. Firstly, if you currently use Gmail, Google+ is integrated into your ‘black bar’ menu. You can use Google+ just as easily as you use Google Calendar, Google Docs, etc. You can ignore it just as easily too. The only intrusion into your Gmail is a little square at the top right corner that turns red when you have a Google+ notification(s). Google+ is as intrusive or as reclusive as you want it to be.

Secondly, Google+ really has the potential to be a ‘Facebook Pro’. Facebook is essentially a playground, but Google+ has the tools to allow for connecting with leaders in your professional field, coworkers, network contacts, salespeople, etc. Nobody would ever dare do these things on Facebook with good reason.

Upshot:

Google+ is currently an invite-only beta, but keep an eye on it. Facebook is in no danger, but Google+ has the potential to literally be a serious social network.

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