By now, you’ve probably at least heard of Google+ and you may be wondering what all the fuss is about? Is it really the new Facebook? The answer is a bit “yes, no, maybe so” While Google+ isn’t Facebook, it has definitely built some attractive features that may tempt Facebook users to transfer some of their online social interactions.
The first big thing Google+ has going for it is its integration with other Google applications. Google + connects with gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs, and it uses Google Search to inform its “Sparks” feature. Does your daily dose of updates from your favorite TV show start your morning off right? Instead of fan pages and like buttons, use “Sparks” to track just about anything from Harry Potter to Starbucks. News that posts anywhere on the Internet about your “Spark” will show up in your Stream (Google+’s version of Facebook’s News Feed). The buzz is that Facebook is moving in a similar direction (including integration with Microsoft’s search engine, Bing), but right now, the convenience of being able to, for instance, share a your term paper on Google Docs in a “Hangout” with some of the people from your class is pretty cool.
Facebook has improved its privacy settings, but overall, it isn’t the best when it comes to filtering your conversations easily. Post photos of your kids playing Batman and Robin before bed and every “friend” sees it, unless you’ve gone through the complicated Facebook “Groups” setup process and remembered to make your post private to one of your Groups. With Google+, you create circles of people, and you selectively share information with certain circles. Every time you connect with someone on Google+, you add them to a circle, so you never have to worry that someone who’s not in one of your circles will see your content, unless you post it publicly. As you post comments, photos or links, you choose what circles to share each item with. You can add your mom to a family circle, your boss to a work circle, and your friends to yet another. You can even add people to multiple circles. After all, your cube-mate is a co-worker and a friend, right?
Facebook’s “Friend Request” system can create some awkward social situations. Anyone who has ever looked away uncomfortably when asked, “Why haven’t you accepted my friend request yet?” knows what I’m talking about. In contrast, Google+ has no “Friend Requests.” Anyone can add you to one of their circles, but they will only see your public posts, unless you add them to one of your circles. You can also follow anyone you want, even without that person adding you as a friend. You can see what people share with the public and, unlike Twitter, they won’t be limited to 140 characters. Imagine what Ashton Kutcher will do with this.
Another way to connect with your circles is through the “Hangout” feature, a video chat that up to 10 people can join. You can open your chat session to certain circles, all of your circles, or even the public at large, as with Chatroulette, the web tool for meeting people. This is great for meetings, book clubs, study groups, or just reconnecting with old friends.
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Businesses- Access to the Inner Circle
Because of the way Google+ is designed around “Circles,” it’s a great place to connect with people who share similar interests. Artists, photographers, and other creative people are quickly finding that Google+ offers a great place to share their work within Circles of other creative’s. Google+’s recently introduced “Brand Pages” (very similar to Facebook Pages for businesses and organizations), opening up the potential that your favorite band or favorite toothpaste company might host a “Hangout” that a lucky few can join.
Google+ was built with the mobile user in mind. Facebook’s mobile app has most of the functionality of the regular Facebook site, but Facebook itself does not have features that were specifically designed for mobile users. Google+ has Huddle. Huddle is like a chat room and a group text combined. Have you ever tried to coordinate a last-minute venue change for a dinner with multiple attendees? You can group text everyone, but if anyone can’t accommodate the change, it’s like herding cats. Huddle lets you quickly create a closed chat room where everyone can text the group all at once. The only downside is that the Google+ app is currently only available for Android platforms, so iPhone users are cut out of the “Huddle.”
Also geared toward mobile users, Google+’s Instant Upload feature allows you to automatically upload every photo you take with your linked Smartphone to a folder in your profile. Then simply choose whom to share it with, if anyone.
Despite all of its interesting features, Google+ isn’t perfect. If you add to a circle someone who posts a lot of comments, photos or links, there is no way to prevent the prolific poster from filling your “stream” (news feed). This could be a problem if you don’t want such posts drowning out all of your other friends. Also, new comments always appear at the top of your stream regardless of how old the original post is, so you may see the same post(s) for days or weeks if the topic stirs a lot of commentary. Facebook has a “hide” feature that lets you block posts from showing in your feed. You can go to the person’s profile when you want to catch up, without having to remove him or her as a “friend.” The buzz in tech circles is that Google will fix this flaw soon because of less-than-glowing attention from the early adapters.
If you’re into games (or addicted to FarmVille), you may be sad to discover that Google+ has a fairly limited “Games” section of about 30 games (although they advertise that they plan to add more games in the future. For those who enjoy sharing their high scores and purchasing sheep and cows for one another’s’ farms, Facebook is still the winner for social network gaming.
Currently, Google+ is an “invite-only” service (Google is calling this a “field test,” not a beta). But current members can send unlimited invites to their friends. With more than 20 million users already, it’s not exactly an exclusive club. There’s no publicly disclosed estimate of when the service will open to everyone. Some speculate it may remain “invite only” indefinitely.
Ultimately, Google+ isn’t Facebook, and it seems unlikely that it will put Facebook out of business. Facebook has a large and loyal base of “Friends” and its terminology has become a part of pop culture (who hasn’t heard someone say, “OMG, did you see Hillary’s status update this morning?” or “I totally Friended Johnny Depp!”). Users who have a history with Facebook and a large group of Friends may be difficult for Google+ to entice.
However, as a techie girl who’s always looking for new and improved techno options, I like a lot of the features that Google+ offers. It’s not Facebook; it’s something different. A different kind of social network, more of a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter and a search engine, and I appreciate the innovation. As Google+ continues to grow, I have found myself joining Google+ as my friends do, so come join the fun.
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- How to Migrate from Facebook to Google+
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Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, a company based in Redding, Calif., that offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Contact her at www.callnerds.com/andrea