In various ways, each of these critics may be right. But perhaps its time to look at Google+ under a different lens than we do with Facebook; the internet is certainly large enough to accommodate two social networks, and they’re both different enough in some key aspects that they don’t step on each others toes too much.
It’s natural for people to compare Google+ to Facebook; they’re the two biggest names in the game right now. But consider this; I’m not a psychic, but I’m almost willing to bet that your Facebook page is filled with status updates from “friends” whom you either haven’t talked to in years, or simply don’t have any real connections with (that girl you met at the club through your friend that one time). My personal Facebook account currently has 386 “friends”. I can’t honestly say I talk to more than 5-6 people on the site, and I only ever keep Facebook open for it’s chat feature when I’m bored at work. Facebook loves to tout this time live on the site because it can rotate ads all day long; not that anyone is clicking on them. This won’t be the last time I say this, but I think that Trey Parker / Matt Stone had it right with South Park’s portrayal of gaining friends as a form of wealth in “Friend Stock”:
Google+ seems to have taken what people like about Facebook and Twitter and combined them with a unique twist in Circles. Now, I’m certainly not the first person to write about circles, but I will say this; it forces you to actually think about who you’re broadcasting to before you post a message. On top of that, it allows users (and organizations) to connect with people in a very real, very direct way with Hangouts.
Consider this: Today, the White House hosted a Google+ Hangout to connect with voters and concerned citizens regarding the state of the economy, with an emphasis on “The Buffett Rule”. A handful of people were picked to join in the conversation (yours truly included), and it was broadcast live. After the live feed was turned off, they had asked us a few questions about what we think the WH can do to engage voters more. I told them that they were right on track. A few years ago (pre-2008 election) it was virtually unheard of to be able to take part in the conversation on a national level with people directly working in the White House. It’s not hard to see why voter apathy was high among the 18-25 demographic; there just wasn’t much engaging us, even though we have so much to offer in terms of opinions; we’re smarter than they gave us credit for.
I’m not going to sit on a soapbox here and tell you all that Google+ changed the way we lived our lives since this summer; it hasn’t. Much. Yet. But take the video Hangouts and combine it with the open-air attitude that most people have about them (people can choose to make their hangouts available to the public, and even broadcast them live and have them uploaded to their own private Youtube account if they choose). Suddenly, meeting people in the virtual world became an instantly engaging and fun experience. Want to find a few random people to talk to safely? Head over to the Hangouts section and see who’s talking about what, jump in whenever you want, and you’re a part of the conversation. Everyone is friendly and open to new experiences, and wants to get to know who you are as a person. And this is on an international level; it’s fantastic stuff.
As a small business owner, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the number of business use cases that the platform has brought to the light of day. See also: Hangouts with Extras. I run a software company, and we’re moving towards implementing a full Agile development process (see my previous post). With this in mind, with Agile comes brief meetings to discuss progress on a project and work together to make notes about how to move forward with different issues.
In this case, Google+ is the perfect compliment to what we’re using. Project Managers, picture this: you have your development team in one circle. Drill down a bit further, and you can have teams of people assigned to a particular project in circles grouped together. Want to start a SCRUM meeting? Start up a quick hangout with extras, bring up a Google Doc, and invite an entire circle with one entry. Now you’ve got your entire development team (or project team) in a meeting with you, sharing a document, in under 30 seconds. Considering SCRUM meetings are only supposed to last typically between 15-20 minutes, this is an excellent tool to use. This is, of course, assuming that your company is under the umbrella, but that’s a growing demographic anyway.
So, perhaps rather than target Google+ and compare it to Facebook, I think that, instead, we have to expand our schema as to what a social network is. With Google+, it seems as though they put a larger emphasis on social and less of an emphasis on networking. If it’s my time, I’ll take my chances meeting new people in a Hangout than wading through hundreds of people to talk to a select few. It may be bad “Friend Stock”, but I think I can live with that. If you want to read more, follow me on Google+ by clicking my name below. Shameless plug, deal with it.