Unlike Google Buzz or Wave, + appears to be here to stay, and consequently the questions on everyone’s mind seem to be what is Google+, and how does it differ from existing social networking sites? Can it coexist peacefully alongside Facebook and Twitter, or is Google+ an attempt to usurp both social networking kings?
For the not-yet-invited, Google+ might seem like a reformatted Facebook. Users have friends, create profile pages, and share photos. The differences can at first sound semantic, such as Google+ insisting on having “circles” of friends. Yet a closer inspection reveals that this is not just a phrase but a visual guide, one which allows users a greater degree of control over their social networking experience. For instance, users can privately sort friends into a circle of family members, colleagues, or even bowling buddies. Friends can belong to as many of these categories as the user chooses. After sorting friends, a user can decide what information to share with whom.
Yet Google’s approach to friend-ing is truly an amalgamation of both Facebook and Twitter. Friends are not only an interactive category, as they are on Facebook, but can also be one-way, as on Twitter. For instance, a user can simply follow someone and view his or her posts—much as person would on Twitter—instead of automatically establishing a two-way link as one does on Facebook. Again, this allows users to have a greater ability to control and personalize their online social networking.
Personalization seems to be the keyword in describing Google+, but it’s a personalization that relies on a universalized web experience. Google+ inserts its notifications tab on every Google page from search to calendar, a near-constant presence on the user’s browser. Moreover, Google+ combines its version of Facebook’s “like”— +1 —with its search engine. +1’s can not only express an opinion, but also can cause certain items to be sorted higher when running a search. For instance, a Google search for an Italian restaurant will rank those with more +1’s by the user’s friends higher than others. Of course, this can be turned off, but the feature speaks to the idea of Google+ as a connecting tissue between various products as much as its own entity. This theme continues in Huddle, Google’s version of group texting, and even in Sparks, part RSS feed and part chat room.
Google+ seeks to personalize and privatize social networking, but it’s also harder to isolate than Facebook or Twitter. Users who occasionally want to distance themselves from these sites will find it a little more difficult than simply closing a tab. At the same time, Google+’s ability to integrate into the user’s existing web experience should help it become a natural part of the internet, a necessity when so many people have already spent so much time establishing a Facebook and Twitter presence.
Ultimately, Twitter has much less to fear from Google+ than Facebook does. After all, Twitter’s appeal is in the essence of limitation. Google+ might be able to do more than Twitter, but it does not compete with Twitter’s niche. However, Facebook might find itself up against a new contender, provided Google+ can gather enough users. Facebook does have features that Google+ lacks—events, for instance—but with items like hangouts, the reverse is also true. It’s possible that all three might find a way to co-exist either by attracting different users or assuming different roles. Even if Google+ fades away—however slight such a possibility appears—it does seem inevitable that whatever its role will be, it will have a definite effect on the way people use social networking sites.
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