Social networking has grown up alongside Facebook. In its early years, it was a quirky online activity mainly enjoyed by horny college students, and so profiles mainly featured pictures of people holding red party cups. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, Facebook opened itself to the world, and, somewhat more unexpectedly, the world joined. Friend requests started coming in from parents, bosses and colleagues. This caused problems for people who’d created their profiles in the party-cup days. Then the requests started coming in from people you hardly knew. How many of your pictures do you really want them to see?
At this point, most of us have Facebook friends dating back to three or four distinct eras in the evolution of social networking. That’s made it very hard to know how to use your Facebook account. I, for one, have mostly stopped using mine. I don’t want to annoy my acquaintances with the content I want to send my closer friends, nor do I want to annoy my closer friends with the content suitable for my acquaintances.
Facebook has tools for managing all this, but they’re hard and awkward to use. Will people notice that they suddenly can’t see your photographs anymore? If you defriend them, will they take it personally? Do I have time to defriend 400 people? What I need, and what I think a lot of other people need, is an opportunity to start over. But you can’t start over on Facebook. That’s awkward. And no other social network has sufficient density to make joining worthwhile.
That’s where I could imagine Google+ coming in. It’s not that any of its features are so revolutionary. It’s not that it’s better at doing social networking than Facebook. It’s that it’s an opportunity to start over, to build your social network with years of Facebook experience in mind, rather than having to face the accretion of mistakes and miscalculations you made over almost a decade of trial-and-error with a new technology. It’s not Facebook’s fault that “what it means” to have a Facebook account has changed four or five times over the last few years, even as most of us have only had one profile over that period. But it is an opportunity for Google.