While we were busy relaxing this summer, a major shake-up occurred in our (online) social lives: the birth of a Facebook competitor that people actually seem to use. Of course, a legitimate Facebook rival could only come from one source: Google.
It was only a matter of time before Google designed an appealing social network; theyâ€™ve conquered almost every other major Internet realm. Branded Google+ (or â€œGoogle Plusâ€), the site boasts a handful of features that distinguish it from Facebook and Twitter, though these qualities likely wonâ€™t be enough to topple either competitor.
Reviews of Google+ have been mostly mixed among my peersâ€”the main complaint being its redundancy with Facebook. After a little more than two months with Google+, I can safely say that Iâ€™m a fan of the new site, though I sympathize with its detractors.
The most prominent component of Google+ is its circles system. Circles are a means of sorting the people in your life (Facebook would call them friends) into private categories. You might have circles for co-workers, friends, enemies, professors, etc. As in real life, these circles may overlap or remain separate. Also like real life, you donâ€™t have toâ€”and probably shouldnâ€™tâ€” share the same things with every circle.
This solves Facebookâ€™s biggest problem: the everyone-sees-everything approach to social media. It was this very issue that led me to reject my own motherâ€™s Facebook friend request a couple of years ago. On Google+, however, Iâ€™d feel completely at ease adding her to the Family circle, where she may or may not see everything I post.
Itâ€™s a great system that encourages actual thought to go into what you share and with whom you share it. As a result, my Google+ stream is infinitely more substantive than my Facebook News Feed.
Google+ doesnâ€™t employ Facebookâ€™s 1:1 â€œfriendingâ€ approach. If somebody puts you in his or her circles, you arenâ€™t obligated to return the gesture. Iâ€™m sure this has already spurred hurt feelings among users, but I think it gives Google+ a nice, Twitter-esque touch. If youâ€™re so inclined, you could add a celebrity to your circles and anything they share publicly will show up on your Stream.
Other nice Google+ components are the HangoutÂ (video chat) and Huddle (group chat) features, which surpass any similar services Iâ€™ve ever used. Google+ also boasts the clean, visually appealing design scheme weâ€™ve come to expect from Google.
Though itâ€™s still deemed a â€œwork in progress,â€ I havenâ€™t had many issues with Google+. Initially, I found it tough to find people I know, but once I had a few people in my circles, it became much easier.
The biggest problem with Google+ is, well, Facebook. Mark Zuckerbergâ€™s site is just too massive and ingrained in our daily lives to go away. Indeed, adding people to my Google+ circles whom Iâ€™ve already friended on Facebook still feels rather silly.
Iâ€™m optimistic, though. I think, at the very least, the two sites can co-exist. Facebook will remain a bizarre, addictive pastime while Google+ offers a more thoughtful, engaging experience that will expand over time.