The world of social networks got a little more crowded in the summer of 2011 when Google rolled out a test version of its new social networking system, Google +. In just a few short weeks, the network accumulated 20 million users through an invitation only system, and has fuelled widespread speculation and analysis of its current and future impact in the world of social networking.
Like Facebook, Google + is a profile-based social network. Users create a profile featuring biographical information, photos, web links and other information. They can then add other users to their profile, allowing those users to view their information and communicate with them. Like Facebook and Twitter, the Google + homepage uses a feed system, displaying status updates, links and other postings from people each user is connected to, though Google has labelled their post feed a “Stream.” Users can post basic text updates, share links to websites or articles, upload photos, post videos and add locations to their updates.
Where Google + begins to differ from Facebook is in the way connections with other users are organized. Whereas Facebook uses a simple “confirm or deny” approach, as well as a customizable friends list feature, Google + users are given the option to divide other users they’re connected to into “Circles,” based on how they know them or how they feel about them. When a new connection is added, the user can drag and drop that connection into one of any number of circles. Users begin their Google + account with four circles: “Friends,” “Family,” “Acquaintances” and “Following.” Connections can be added to multiple circles or to only one, and users can create new circles or rename old circles as they like. This feature is also used to customize the way updates are displayed on a user’s home screen. Users can choose to view updates from people in all of their circles, or only one or two circles at once. For instance, if a user wished to only see updates from Family members, they would simply click the “Family” icon under the Stream settings, allowing them to view just Family circle updates until they return the settings to normal or change them again. Users interested in dedicated server hosting could use this to create an entire circle devoted only to fellow bloggers interested with that kind of hosting, too, and use that setting to conduct blog business via Google + with little extra effort. This customization can also be applied to a user’s own posts. Users can post private updates to their Stream for only one circle (i.e. Family) or post publicly for all circles. This can be considered an advantage over Facebook, as the Circle format creates much more user control in terms of both content seen and content shared.
While Facebook’s organization and interface is text-based (i.e. click on the word to go to the feature you want), Google + incorporates much more icon-based design into its interface. The Google + features are also more diverse and far-reaching, giving users more options to communicate with other connected users than Facebook. The “Sparks” feature is similar to Facebook’s section for interests on its profile screen, but goes deeper, incorporating Google search into its function and keeping users updated on the latest news dealing with their chosen “sparks” (interests). The “Hangouts” feature allows users to create video chat rooms for up to 10 users at a time, broadening the instant communication capabilities of the network. The “+1” feature is similar to Facebook’s “Like” feature, allowing users to recommend web pages and other content to people in their circles. This feature, perhaps more than any other, may have an impact on web hosting as Google + grows, as many sites are already adding a “+1” button, placing it next to the Facebook “Like” button or the Twitter “Tweet” button.
The impact of Google + on social media, as well as the Web as whole, will be more apparent as the network grows out of its initial testing phase, but it is already clear that the network presents significant advantages for seasoned Google product users, as well as bloggers and business professionals interested in a new way to connect.
Ellee Parker hails from the west coast, loves anime and the eastern culture in general. She could sit for hours surfing the net and provides hosting reviews and guides. You can follow her at @elleeparker