Google+: Too late in the social network game?Posted: 18/09/2011
About two months ago I received a Google+ invitation to the closed Beta from one of my friends, who is even more eccentric in staying up-to-date with the latest on-line developments than I am. He made it no secret that he was a big supporter of the arrival of a serious competitor for Facebook, and because it was Google, one of only two companies with the resources to take on Mark Zuckerberg’s social network behemoth (the other being Microsoft), I was curious and felt I had to take it seriously as well.
My first impression was that it looked rather clean, at first glance a much simpler interface than that of Facebook. One of the first things I noticed was that I was immediately comparing most of its functions to Facebook without even really meaning to. Obviously a result of the many hours a week I had spent on Facebook by then, creating something like an auto-pilot state of moving through the site’s mechanisms. It once again became clear to me how much the use of a single interface can settle in to become a second nature of sorts, without realizing it. This is something I have also noticed before with PC games. For example if you play a game with a certain interface for a long time, you get used to that interface. You learn where certain elements and functions are located on the screen so you can use them more quickly without having to really look for them. It simply becomes a sort of second nature to know where they are. However you won’t realize the rigidity of this until the interface you grew used to gets replaced with another, in which the locations of functions have been changed. Even if it’s only a slight alteration of the location or just the colour of an element.
As far as the use of the Circles function goes on Google+, I found it to be an interesting approach, however I haven’t decided on whether it simplifies or complicates things regarding its implications. Actively categorizing everyone you know, what to share with whom. It definitely takes a step towards fixing problems previously seen on Facebook where someone would carelessly complain about their boss while forgetting they were in their friends list, consequently getting fired. Although spilling those beans on the internet is never a good idea, regardless of how strict you have set your privacy settings.
So far I have only successfully convinced my two younger brothers to join Google+, who I therefore categorized in the ‘Family’ circle. Apart from them there is a group of about five friends, four of whom were curious as I was, the fifth being the Google+ fan who invited me to join. This brings the total number of people I am connected with through Google+ to a whopping seven. As such, I have not required to change or add more circles as of yet, and the few things I might share on Google+, mostly to test the functionality of the site, I have no problem sharing with all of my current contacts. The activity on my Google+ timeline is dominated by two friends who appear to be actively using it, with the odd post inbetween by others, although it seems a few have already abandoned it after using it for a month or less.
A function I was recommended to use on Google+ by the person who invited me was ‘Sparks’. Basically it’s a way to categorize your interests. Google+ creates a timeline per Spark, so you can keep up with the latest developments, news stories or other. In order to test it out I added NASA to my Sparks. It turns out this produces a timeline with an average of five news items per day about NASA, which seemed to me like too much work to keep up with. I am interested in new developments, but I don’t have the time or motivation to read all of them. Instead of being selective, I dismissed it altogether, as I find Twitter to be a more efficient source of information.
In conclusion, I think it is great that Google tries to compete with Facebook, but so far that’s the only praise I can give as I have not found any functionality or added value that I desperately miss on Facebook. Facebook has become too much of a household name as a social network, with a total 750 million active users, and I think it’s too late to convince people to switch. I also don’t see a point in using both networks at the same time, or a logical scenario where this would be efficient. Facebook has even copied some of the functions from Google+, such as the option to share content with a specific group of people within your friends list.
In the end I think the main factor that determines which network people will use is which network is being used by your friends, family and co-workers. So far, it looks like Google+ has a long way to go to becoming the answer to the question “which social network are you using?”.