Is there a plus side to Google+?

The distinguishing factor of Google+ is the ability to split your contacts into lists of people, which is called circles.

By BENJAMIN SPIER
July 13, 2011 22:22
3 minute read.
screen shot of Google +

Google plus 311. (photo credit: REUTERS / screen shot)

 
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Google has built a technology empire by taking someone else’s idea and successfully improving it. There were already search engines, but then there was Google.com. There was already e-mail, but then there was Gmail. There were already smartphones, but then there was the Android. We already had Facebook, but now there is Google+.

Over the past week, Google opened up its until-now exclusive social-media site by flooding users with invitations and allowing Google members to sign up. So what is the big reveal that Google hopes will outperform Facebook? Circles.

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The distinguishing factor of Google+ is the ability to split your contacts into lists of people, which is called circles. You can selectively choose the visibility of the items you share and the links and status updates that appear on your feed.

If you don’t want your grandmother to see the pictures from your last trip to the beach, or you don’t want to bore your friends with an article meant for your coworkers, Google+ has the answer.

While this is a feature that can be considered useful, it is not a strong enough reason to pull me away from my preexisting network of “800” friends on Facebook. While the idea of sharing your posts with only some of your network is a clever development, it is a function that seems easily copied by Facebook in the near future.

Otherwise, Google+ has mostly the same functions as Facebook, and those of us who are used to the blue and white banner will find it all too easy to navigate the site on our first visit. Even the infamous Facebook “like” has been replaced by a less catchy +1 feature.

The one feature on Google+ that is likely to change the way we use social media is the ability to simultaneously video chat with a group of friends. With the Google+ hangout feature, instead of having to call all your friends one at a time, a group chat can be started at no cost. While it as has always been easy to start one-on-one video chats on Gmail or Skype, Skype only allows group video calls for its premium users.

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The group video chat has likely grabbed the attention of the executives of Facebook and Skype.

There have been talks of Facebook incorporating video chats into its website using Skype, and it would be embarrassing for Facebook to start one step behind the competition and not allow for free group video calls.

While the group video chats might push me onto Google+ on occasion for face time with multiple friends or family members who are back in the US, it isn’t enough to replace Facebook as the nucleus for my online social experience.

Unlike Google’s previous successes – such as the Android and Gmail, which slowly developed a following until having a strong standing among the competition – a social media site needs mass users, about 750 million of them, to be worthwhile.

I’m sure the more tech-savvy Internet users will explore Google+, and younger people will find it useful to make their weekend plans, but less than technologically inclined people will not be drawn to stumble their way through another social-media site that doesn’t offer anything cutting edge.

Also, some of the best times to look at social media are the little moments when you are equipped with nothing but your cellphone, like in line at the supermarket or waiting for the bus. Yet Google decided to unveil the site before its app was approved in the Apple app store, in the meantime depriving iPhone and iPad users of Google+ on the go.

I think the real opportunity missed by Google was to integrate all the social-media streams into one feed. I am still frustrated on a daily basis by having to log on to Facebook, Twitter and Gmail to stay in the loop with my friends.

Why is there no obvious way for me to post my Facebook pictures for my Twitter followers to see? While applications like Tweet- Deck attempt to do just that, that was the idea Google missed improving on and implicating in a way only Google can.

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