A woman walks past a tunnel of Google homepage logos at the Google campus near Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, California January 13, 2012. (LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS)

The joke has become that Google+ is now a social network for Google employees.

But here’s the thing: Google+ is technically better than its rivals in a number of key ways. The user interface is comfortable and friendly. It’s easy to maintain circles of contacts, and to segregate what you share with each group. Discussions of small-to-medium sizes are manageable and readable — even in real time. Facebook wins when it comes to the open graph and app ecosystem, but a lot of people don’t care about that stuff.

Google made mistakes, of course. Most recently, an amazingly bad oversight made it possible for followers to deposit events in other people’s calendars. Getting a steady stream of spammish invites to events from people I’ve never met was incredibly annoying. But mistakes are inevitable.

But here’s the thing: Google has tied its fate to Google+, but not in the way you think. Employee bonuses are connected to usage numbers on the platform. One by one, every product is being connected to Google+. And the truth is that Google doesn’t really need you to use Google+ to post status updates with your friends as much as they simply need you to log in and tell them your age.

If you do this, suddenly they can tie together your iPhone, your work machine, and your laptop. Your 3 machines become one person. You. And you are broadcasting signals all the time. If you don’t explicitly tell Google where you live, what you do, and how old you are, they will be able to make fantastically informed guesses.

Of course, Facebook is doing more or less the same thing. You probably just don’t care as much, because Facebook was always doing it. You weren’t using it anonymously in 1998, so your expectations are different.

For me, however, it’s all about engagement. When I share something on Google+, I get an interesting discussion — replies from friends long lost. The discussions are far more cohesive than Twitter’s 140-character, scatter-shot approach. And they are more far flung than what I get on Facebook — a network that I have always tried to keep closed so I can safely share pictures of my kids with the grandmas.

But Google is trying ... hard.

The new Google+ iPad app is superior to Facebook’s, which feels slow even on the newest of devices. And nearly every product is slowly incorporating bits of Google+. Eventually, my Gmail-using parents will succumb and I’ll be able to reach them through Google+.

Google has deep pockets, and the company is reaching deep into them not to make their social network explode, but rather to make it creep up on you.

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