OK, so I’ve been using Google+ a little bit now, not as much as some of my friends and colleagues have, but that’s OK – I’m a relatively unsociable person, as it happens!
But I did take the time to study it a little from an innovation direction, and while I am intrigued by some of the design decisions taken, I have to say that I’m not exactly overwhelmed by it.
Let’s kick off. What is Google+? Well, if you’re living in a cave, you may not have heard of it, but it’s basically like Facebook without being Facebook. More specifically, it’s Facebook without the anal-retentive (and over-complicated) privacy stuff, and that’s been replaced with a setup that’s not only easier to use but much more effective in the long run.
It also doesn’t have all the really annoying apps that Facebook does, which is both a blessing and a curse – it’s a curse in that there’s less reason for people to go on there and be social, but on the flip side, there’s less crap to wade through of apps trying to get you to join them, and it also significantly limits the risk of things abusing your privacy (and malware in general)
On the plus side (pun not intentional), there’s what looks and feels like better integration with things like YouTube and Picasa about getting photos on there. Facebook’s setup isn’t bad at all, but Google’s is cleaner and friendlier to use – and dare I say it, more general-user friendly, not just overall friendlier (what is friendlier to me may still be unfriendly to non-technical users)
It’s also far better geared to not sharing everything with everyone; on Facebook you do have to think, and dig, if you want to keep some things semi-private. On G+, it’s straightforward: you set up ‘circles’ of people you know, the idea being that it’s analogous to ‘circles of friends’, so that people in one circle (e.g. close friends) might get to see things that another circle (co-workers) wouldn’t.
So far, it’s pretty intriguing in this respect: you get all the flexibility of sharing what you want with who you want, without any of the apparent downsides. In fact, I’m really not sure where the downsides to G+ are right now – perhaps there aren’t any while it’s still in beta, and the downsides are going to come in the end.
What I’d suggest is, if you’re not using Facebook, you don’t really need G+ at this point in time. There’s little value to it if the whole social networking thing isn’t for you. But if you’ve used Facebook, G+ is definitely a step up for being sociable: it’s easier to share things you want with who you want, and you get the feeling with it that your privacy is more important than them making money of you.
That said, there are some caveats: all the information locked up in Facebook is valuable to them – and to their advertisers, because you can figure out who would be best advertised to based on your indicated likes and that of your friends. G+ will, no doubt, make use of this information in its own way (because that’s what Google does, and it’s very, very good at it), and remember: when you’re signed into G+, you’re signed in to Google when you do Google searches. Suddenly your searches are directly, and explicitly attributable to a person, as opposed to implied-only association.
Anyway, the $64,000. It’s good, in a lot of ways, but is it innovative? My answer sadly has to be no. It’s not innovative in itself: Facebook, originally, was innovative. Google+ is Facebook done basically right. The ‘circle of friends’ analogy is interesting but it’s not really that new either – it’s just a different spin on assigning users to groups, even if they are per-user groups.