Monday, August 15, 2011

The G-force of Google Plus

It is a given that online social networks are here to stay. What is changing is how your network integrates into your entire online experience and Google is a major catalyst behind this shift. Google already offers an array of widely used online services, Gmail, Picasa, Blogger, Buzz, Wave - chances are you use some of them yourself - so it's little wonder the company got their social network, Google Plus, off the ground to an explosive reception this past summer. 

Existing Google account holders will find the transition to Google Plus to be seamless; it's a classic case of an add-on sale. While many of us feel as though we couldn't eat another bite of social media, full as we are on our daily diet of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Google Plus arrives as the dessert course of Google's set menu ordered when you were still hungry. That is to say, many Google account holders began using (and came to rely on) their Google services before they ever joined Facebook or Twitter. For these people, using Google Plus is more like consolidating your online presence than switching PR firms. 

Google may have missed the initial social network waves that Facebook and Twitter rode to success. But now Google Plus can offer improvements on their competitors' features. While many details of Google Plus are simply welcome adjustments - the personal taglines of Twitter profiles without the spam, superior privacy settings, notifications that appear when using other Google sites, and the ability to edit posts after they're posted rather than deleting and re-posting or, heaven forbid, ignoring the error and letting it go down in indelible internet history - there are also some remarkable new concepts at work.
  • Circles
One of the real difference makers is Google Plus' circle feature. As in life, groups of friends, family, acquaintances, and co-workers can overlap or exclude to personalize the privacy of your actions. For instance, you can share photos with just your family circle and jokes with only your friends as you might in real life. While Facebook has it's counterpart in the "friends" list, Google Plus' circles are more pliable and actually fun to work with.
  • +1
As with Facebook's like button, Google's +1 button is a simple way to publicly recommend a site, recipe, musician, company - basically anything searchable. However, on Google Plus you have a page to keep track of these "internet treasures" as Google puts it, thus enabling you to check in with your +1 page on your own schedule rather than being inundated with your like-ee's updates that end up diluting your news feed.
  • Hangouts and Huddles
Google has termed their video chat and text applications hangouts and huddles, respectively. Unlike Skype, you can chat with a group of up to nine people and, as your hangout can be made public, you can actually meet new people if friends of whoever you're hanging out with join in. This is a remarkable social tool that adds another dimension to Google Plus over the friendly voyeurism of Facebook. 

A pro for Google Plus that is also a con for those under the age of 13: you must be over 13 to join. While this limits a portion (and sadly only a portion) of the juvenility of the posts, it does exclude a sliver of online participants. Another con is the unavailability of business pages, that is, currently only private persons can open Google Plus accounts, (although business pages are predicted to come out later this year). A major flaw affecting both tweens and businesses alike: if you try to join Google Plus you can not only be booted off the site but you could also lose all of your related Google content on the sister sites. This flaw will likely change in severity as it's been a major point of contention.

Google Plus is not Facebook or Twitter; it does some of the same things better and it offers some great new tools and treats. There is, of course, nothing stopping Google's competitors from making counter-improvements and some have already done so. All in all, Google seems destined for continued greatness with Google Plus as yet another star player on their roster of winners. Of course, Google Plus is behind Facebook and Twitter in terms of number of users by a few hundred million or so, but there is no denying that this new network has sparked the interest of online junkies. It offers excellent management control and aesthetics and is drawing users daily from other popular Google services. Well on it's way to becoming a big player in the social media market, Google Plus is indeed the next big thing for anyone who wants to stay connected.