How Google+ just might solve Facebook’s biggest stumbling block
So I’ve dabbled with Google+ over the last week or so (along with many of you, perhaps). At first, I struggled to see the point in what appeared to be no more than a “me too” social-network offering from Google. It’s not much to look at, and it seems decidedly bare bones compared to what we’re used to from the likes of Facebook. Slowly, though, as I experiment with the interface, the appeal of Google+ is growing. Please bear in mind, though, that this piece reflects only my early thoughts.
One of the big problems with Facebook (and to a lesser degree, Twitter) is something that many people don’t really talk about for fear of offending others; the difficulty of maintaining a profile that will be seen by a wide range of people. For instance, there’s the awkward dilemma of receiving friend requests from people who are sometimes only acquaintances at best. If you accept them, you’ll likely have to make a few convoluted changes to your settings in order to ensure that they can only view what you’d like them to view. And that’s not to mention the difficulties you’ll encounter when you post something on your “Wall”. You can, in the case of Facebook, set it to “private”, “friends only”, “friends of friends”, or even exclude certain friends on an individual basis. But even the first three settings are fairly limited. And the fourth? Well, once you get over, say, 300 friends deep, it’s easy to overlook an acquaintance who perhaps shouldn’t see what you’d like to write. When it comes to Twitter, your options are even more limited.
In a nutshell, one of the biggest problems with both Facebook and Twitter is the problem of self-censorship. How many times have you gone to post something only to undo it all because of the fear that someone – perhaps completely unrelated to the subject matter – may take it the wrong way? Innocent or not, the relatively open nature of these social networks present some rather ironic social dilemmas.
Google+ presents a more effective and hassle-free solution to this problem than Facebook. But more than this, it presents a real opportunity for Facebook users frustrated with that experience to start afresh and construct a social network that’s less likely to dissolve into a complicated mess of varying, individually-set privacy settings. Even Twitter, which many likely see as a completely different kettle of fish, may have something to fear from Google+ here.
The major innovation that Google+ brings is its “Circles” feature, which encourages the user to assign friends and followers into certain categories (invisible to them) as soon as the initial contact is made. Better still, you can actually customise these circles, adding as many layers as you see fit. For instance, you can create a circle exclusively for your “workmates” or for your “ïndoor cricket” team; if you post a photo album you’d only like your workmates to see, simply select that circle at the posting stage. Sure, it still requires a degree of organisation and maintenance, but arguably significantly less than its peers.
For the longest time, I’ve seen Facebook as a relatively invaluable tool in spite of a few awkward social aspects. For the first time, I’ve seen something that’s got me thinking about the possibilities and the benefits of jumping ship and starting afresh. And while Twitter offers a completely different set of benefits, Google+ shows promise in integrating these into the same interface also. It’s something I’ll certainly watch with interest in the weeks to come.