Google unleashed their latest attempt to grab the focus from Facebook and Twitter with Google+, a Social Network that, at first glance, looks like a Facebook clone, but differentiates itself in at least one significant way: the people you communicate with on Google+, along with the way that you do it and the tools for inviting and connecting people are far superior to the social networking competition and they emulate the way we communicate in real life. This makes for a very engaging and, once you have a handle on it, comfortable social network right out of the gate.
Now, most of my nptech friends are working hard to imagine what kind of applications this new platform will offer for constituent engagement and marketing. This is a bit of a challenge, because the beta-release is specifically designed for individuals, not organizations; Google plans to open it up to companies later, with some targeted functionality. That’s too speculative for my taste.
Lots of smart nptech people have described Google+ and shared some insightful first impressions — here are some of my favorites:
Beth Kanter’s first impressions
NTEN’s Amy Sample Ward on Google+ privacy and control
Frogloop’s everrything you always wanted to know about Google+
Her’s how I sum up the major difference between Google+ and the social ntworking competition: on Google+, you’re a person. On Facebook and Twitter, you’re a persona. This is an easier case to make for Twitter than Facebook — Twitter’s only privacy offering is the option to block your tweets, and only a small percentage of users do that. Most of us know that we are broadcasting to the world on that medium and act accordingly, being mindful that we are establishing an onliine reputation, not having a fireside chat. Facebook suffers from an identity crisis: it started out as an intimate, friends only network, but, in recent years, has been re-egineered to default to a Twitter-like public stream. It can be restricted, but even if you define lists that separate out friends, colleagues and family, targeting messages to them is still a bit of work, particularly when compared to Google+. Accordingly, most of my friends use the platform to share information broadly, rather than converse. It is overall more personal information than what you see on Twitter, but it’s not interpersonal.
Google+, by contrast, allows you to easily restrict your post to the circles of contacts that you define and/or individuals that you’re connected to. If they’re not on Google+, you can include them in your circles anyway and share via email. This makes it more like an email extended conversation than a separate social network — I’ll be surprised if we don’t see some merging of the Google+ Circles and GMail Contacts soon. Add to that the Hangouts feature — group video chat — and Google+ isn’t really focused on sharing information as much as it is on conversing. It can function like Twitter and Facebook, but the default is a little bit richer. We’ll see what happens when the thrill wears off, but the initial activity seems to well reflect this — we’re finding it to be a very engaging platform. My friends haven’t abandoned Facebook and Twitter, but I can see that the questions and conversational posts are going straight to G+, while the shared links and cute cat pictures are remaining on Twitter and FB.
Web strategist that I consider myself to be, when I look at these networks, I think about them not as social networks, but as future operating systems. I firmly believe that Windows, Linux and OSX are all going to become less and less important as feature platforms — they already are. People are starting to abandon them for IOS and Android, patforms for running mobile apps. AsHTML5 and Ajax make web apps more sophisticaed — and those apps run well regardless of the operating system — the IOS and Android-specific apps will wane as the cross-platform web apps take precedence. At that point, the function of a network operating system, regardless of the hardware platform, will be to support communication and sharing, better befitting the name “network”. Google+, Facebook, and the like will mirror the functionality of business portals like Sharepoint (we already see themadopting the social networking features).
In this near future, where the social network IS the network, who’s going to win? The ones, like Facebook, that restrict the use of the data and push everything to be public, or the ones like Google+, that make it easy for users to extract, backup and control their information and that have intranet/extranet/internet functionality built in at the core?
Which company is going to get this concept quicker — the one that started as a social network, or the one that has been developing a web-based operating system for years, Google ChromeOS, which already works as a shell for existing Google products, much as Google+ is conceived as an extension of the same?
I don’t think Google+ is simply challenging Facebook. It’s still Google challengng Microsoft and Apple. Facebook might well be a victim of that battle because, once this network as OS matures, we’ll all have to ask ourselves why we would use the one with Farmville instead of the one with Google Apps. Or the one that facilitates collaboration and teamwork over branding and sharing cat videos. I see Google+ as the evolution of the Google operating system, not just another social network. It will be very interesting to watch it grow.