Google+ did not have an easy entrance into the tech world. Launched in June to select users and in September to the wider public, it was immediately labeled by technology writers as Google’s attempt at a “Facebook killer.” Dogged by comparisons to the social media giant, Google+ limped along, losing early adopters accustomed to Facebook’s crowded, cozy haunts.
Then there are reports from the inside: Google employees have had gripes. Two weeks ago, Google engineer Steve Yegge posted a long rant to what he thought was a Google employees “circle,” the term Google chose for private groups. But Yegge had accidently broadcasted to the public that Google+ was a “pathetic afterthought,” letting the whole world in on his concerns about his employer.
I can’t say that I’ve been a fan, either. When Google+ launched, I started checking on it as part of my job, but it felt like a chore.
But I was wrong. Steve Yegge was wrong. Tech writers were wrong. Four months after Google rolled out its social media site, Google+ deserves a closer look.
When Facebook introduced its latest changes, it did so in part to shore up its hold on its users, offering up more options to keep them on the site. But for many of the people who already use Facebook frequently, the noise has become overwhelming.
I had organized Facebook lists, hidden updates from friends who were keeping me up on baby’s every little development and figured out how to hide vacation photos from work colleagues. Then Facebook asked me to organize my lists all over again, identifying my family and work colleagues and deciding what my top interests are. Facebook grew up as a way just to connect people with their friends, but now it is trying to reorganize its users around their likes and dislikes, based on algorithmic guesswork. All this might be to its detriment.
Facebook investor and Napster co-founder Sean Parker said as much this month at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. “The glut of information that power users are overwhelmed with” will scare them away, he said. “The strategic threat to Facebook is that power users . . . have gone to Google+.”
By contrast, Google started out based on the ultimate system of organization: library catalogues. Google+ first asks users to determine which circles they want friends in. Many see this — and the fact that you need a Gmail address to join and find friends — as an obstacle. That’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, think of the site not as a way to organize friends but as a way to organize interests, technology blogger Robert Scoble says.
“Google+ is for finding, and talking with, the people who are interested in the same thing you are,” Sbcoble wrote in a recent Google+ post defending the site.
Resting on the building blocks of a search engine, Google + allows that sort of discovery to happen. You can type any topic into its search engine and you’ll get a mix of links, photographs, videos and, yes, status updates from other users who’ve referenced the topic. You can then add those users to your circles.
The site also allows for deeper, more focused conversations to happen. Once you find those people who share your common interests, Google, which already gets an A+ in communication skills for Gmail and Gchat, created another stellar product in the Hangouts. These allow folks to gather in a private group to talk, in real time, about anything.
I realized that I might be missing out on these when one of my favorite newshound college friends told me that he spends most days logged into a hangout with our five other media-focused friends. His wife actually threatened to call the others in the group to get them to stop.
Although I won’t be giving up my Facebook account anytime soon — I do need a place to see my cousin’s baby’s photos after all — there are pluses to being social in a different way.