I’m not gonna lie, I’m feeling pretty savvy and exclusive right now. I just got on Google+. Sure, I realize Google recently reopened invites in hopes to “double” the numbers of people using the service in its “field trial,” and that millions of people are now on it (see the end of this post) but as someone who’s constantly connected and loves anything new in the form of social networking, I’m loving the chance to be a part of it. Plus, I’m still a couple weeks ahead of the curve, with the expected public release of Google+ speculated to be July 31.
Of course, it’s not exactly a Facebook killer yet, for me at least, since I only have like five friends in my Circles. A friend who invited me to Google+ was discussing with me whether it could be a Facebook killer in the future. It’s hard to say. Here’s why:
Circles — The strict privacy settings, while awesome, inhibit creeping: the name of the game on Facebook. Your account comes with four predetermined Circles: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. When you connect with new people, you have the option of placing them in as many Circles as they belong in (and you have the ability to create new circles to fit your personalized needs). Your friends will never see the Circle you placed them in, only that you’ve added them to your Circles. So, say you find your high school’s prom queen, with whom you never particularly got along. Of course, you’re going to want to creep on her to see if karma’s bitten her in the butt yet, but you don’t exactly want her to see everything you’re doing. If you place her in a Circle with limited visibility to your online antics entitled, “People Who Suck,” she’ll never know the difference. Keep in mind, she can do the same to you, rendering your attempt at creeping futile.
I always try to keep my personal Facebook profile as private and squeaky clean to those who might use information against me as possible. (Not that I do terrible things, but sometimes I have whiny, venting statuses. Sometimes I post “inappropriate” humor. I don’t need future employers to see that.) But they’ve made the privacy settings such a labyrinth to try to navigate that it’s become physically impossible to heighten my privacy to a level it was before they made all their changes. This is where Google+ comes in — While Facebook says you can control exactly who sees everything you post, they’re not taking into account that you might not have known to do three backflips and drink a glass of chocolate milk upside down, a necessary step to ensure the change goes into effect. I’ve seen people’s comments on statuses of people I’m not even friends with. Granted, I am a seasoned creeper. If I could do it for a living, I would. I’ve found ways to get information I want on even the most private of profiles. I don’t think Google+ will allow me to do that, but we’ll see once my circles grow a little.
Photos — Google+’s photo uploading capabilities are both awesome and terrifying. You have the potential to set up instant and automatic uploads from your phone’s photo gallery. Yeah, don’t freak out. All the photos go to a private album associated with your Google+ account on Picasa (which I’ll talk about a little later). You can then decide who you share your photos with, if anyone at all. This feature still freaks me out a little bit. I don’t want to end up accidentally seeing pictures of my friends that were meant for significant others only, if you know what I mean. Hopefully everyone will use their power of privacy control wisely in this area. I can’t say much about my personal use of the feature — It worked well to upload my existing photos from my phone. I like the idea that they go to Picasa, too, where you can easily store them on your computer in folders and edit them before sharing.
Speaking of Picasa, word is that with the public launch of Google+, Google plans to retire the non-Googley sounding names of Picasa and Blogger, their popular photo sharing and blogging platforms. In an effort for Google accounts to be streamlined and have a distinct Google identity, rumor is they will change the names of the services to Google Photos and Google Blogs. The services themselves won’t be dismantled, just streamlined. It’s been speculated that other Google brands with non-Google names will be affected, but YouTube will remain YouTube. (Cue collective sigh of relief.)
Seamlessness — Come on, Facebook has been flopping a little lately. First their initially widely-buzzed-about-but-rarely-used e-mail service, and just last week, the “something awesome” Zuckerberg was getting everyone hyped about turned out to be Skype integration into Facebook’s preexisting chat feature, and a sidebar on the right side of the screen shoving everyone you talk to most at you. Google+ has something similar and more.
Huddles and hangouts are Google+’s ways to connect with friends. Huddles are “super fast group messaging for your circles” according to the Huddle app that comes with your Google+ app download. It’s basically like a group chat (or it could be a one-on-one chat, I suppose), only Google+ will actually notify you on your phone if someone messages you from a Huddle when you’re away from the computer. Facebook’s app has been notorious for automatically showing you as available to chat, and then not notifying you on your phone (or later on the site) when you receive a message. So, basically, people think you’re ignoring them. Can we say drama starter? Google+ huddles not only notify you, but let you respond quickly and efficiently from your phone just like texting. Sounds like it’ll be awesome once I get a few more friends to huddle with.
Hangouts are almost exactly like Facebook’s new video message integration, only not through Skype. The only problem I have with these features is that my computer doesn’t have a built in webcam, so my lack of enthusiasm about them may be a result of my bitterness.
Besides the perfection of these features, Google is a proven brand on many levels – Gmail, Docs, Calendar, etc. All of these accounts are streamlined in one place when you sign in on Google+. Convenience to the max.
According to census data from Ancentry.com’s founder Paul Allen, Google+ is growing exponentially, and probably has somewhere near 5 million users even in its field trial stage. He based his estimate on the amount of people with certain last names who had profiles on Google+. In fact, since I initially drafted this post about an hour ago, that number has skyrocketed to an estimated 10 million Google+ users by the end of the day Tuesday. To this information, Mark Zuckerberg retorted that Facebook recently reached 750 million users, but didn’t proclaim the milestone because it doesn’t matter how many users they have anymore. Rawr hiss.
All in all, Google has a solid product with Google+, but only time will tell where that will get them. Personally, I can only handle having one primary social networking presence. I have a Twitter, but I rarely post on it (mainly because it’s basically got to be public, or else why even have one?). I think Google+ could have the power to overthrow Facebook, but it’s all about who joins. People will go where their friends are. Maybe we’ll be watching The [New] Social Network: Google+ Edition in a few years. But who am I to say? I used MySpace as my primary social network until my first semester of college in 2008.