What is Google+? (Five things to know before you join.)

Google just launched the first social network to really compete with Facebook and Twitter.  What is Google+?  Should you bother trying it out?  Here are 5 fundamental facts to know before you decide.

  1. Google+ is basically a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter.  At its heart, that’s what you’re getting.  When you post status updates on Google+ (as well as photos, links, etc.), you can either post them publicly, for the world to see (like Twitter) or privately, to one of your circles of friends (like Facebook).  On the incoming side, your Google+ “Stream” (think Facebook’s Wall or your Twitter Feed), mixes in updates from your personal friends and people you don’t know, so you’re getting both experiences in one interface.
  2. Google+ organizes people into circles. On Google+, all the people you connect with are added to circles.  So what are circles? Basically, they are just like Twitter and Facebook Lists, but unlike these other services, you can actually find and easily use Google+ circles.  When you add a person to Google+, you add them directly to a circle. It’s a clean and easy way to organize the people you’re connected to.
  3. Connecting with people on Google+ is like Twitter, not Facebook.  Just like Twitter, you do not need permission from someone to add him or her to your Google+ circles.  When you add someone to your Google+ circles, you are not automatically added to their circles, like you would when you make a two-way connection on Facebook.  Just like Twitter, the person you add gets an email to notify them that you’ve added them, and gives them the option to add you back.  If you add someone and they do not add you back, then just like Twitter, you will see only the updates that they publicly broadcast.
  4. Google+ = privacy+. Google has gone to great lengths to promote itself as having much better privacy controls than Facebook.  With their circles feature, it’s very clear when you’re sharing with your private network, and when you’re sharing with the world.  If this is important to you, Google+ is probably going to be much better than Facebook.
  5. The killer feature of Google+ is… Hangtime???  Hangtime is group video chat built into the network.  I haven’t used it myself, as I don’t have enough friends on Google+ to “hang,” but the tech press is reporting that this is a killer feature.  Google + also has Huddle, their group text chat feature.  Between Hangtime and Huddle, Google is betting that real-time communication between small groups of people is what the current social networks are lacking.

Should you join Google+?

It depends on what you’re looking for.  Google has created an effective solution that combines what works about Facebook and what works about Twitter.  If the world is looking for one platform to integrate both experiences, Google+ could really take off. 

If privacy is a big deal to you, I'd suggest joining.  But for me, I don't choose amusement parks based on their safety ratings.  Maybe I'm naive, but I'm not going to choose my social network based on privacy.

Google+ doesn’t really do anything new, so there’s no incentive for me to try and persuade my friends to move our conversations off one platform and over to Google+. Google+ is clearly evolution, not revolution.

So adoption will probably be based on the classic social network paradox: “I’ll join if everyone else joins.”

Also keep in mind, no one is really using Google+ yet.  The millions of users who rushed to join Google+ are only testing it out, while continuing their real conversations on Facebook and Twitter.  Right now Google+ is an echo chamber.  Content is mostly updates “cut and pasted” from Facebook and Twitter.  Basically: Tweet + cut + paste = Google+.

I'm not sure if Google+ will gain a footing with actual content, but I’m happy either way.  Google+ is a strong enough product that if everyone moves to it, I won’t be frustrated.  But because it lacks any killer features I care about, if Google+ doesn’t catch on, I won’t be disappointed.

Till then, I'll put this post up on my blog, then share it on Facebook, tweet the link, email blast out the content, and now also broadcast it to my Google+ circles. Technology makes my life so easy.

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