I think he’s right. This is the largest project that Google has done since search, with more engineers on this than any other department than search. Also, Google’s new CEO, Sergey Brin, has tied 25% of bonuses this year to Google’s success in social. I digress. Back to the matter at hand.
It is my opinion that Google+ is the social network that should have been. It’s smart, easy to use, intuitive, and most of all, there is granular control over privacy and sharing. The granular control, combined with Google’s wide distribution, is what will enable Google+ to gain a foot hold in the social space, and eventually become a Facebook contender.
Facebook sharing leaves a lot to be desired. Originally you could share with everyone or not share. Now you can share with all of your friends, friends of friends, or everyone, and exclude a few specific people. It’s clumsy. I’m not going to pick which people out of 900+ connections to exclude.
The thing that kills me is that Facebook could have done this. They already have the beginnings of it: friend lists at http://facebook.com/friends. This is an option everyone has when they add a new friend, and I’ve categorized most of my friends on Facebook. The problems with Facebook friends lists are that 1) there is no navigational way to get to these lists (that I can find), and 2) you can’t share content specifically with any lists.
Google+ allows me to sort my friends from the very beginning, like Facebook, with the Circles feature. I can add them to specific Circles at any time by simply mousing over their profile picture. It’s pretty slick.
Then things start to get really interesting with sharing. I can pick one of those lists there and share a link, picture, or video with just the people on those lists.
Notice that I can share publicly, with a specific list, multiple lists, or with just one person by adding their user name or email address. Incredibly powerful. It’s a sea change in the way that social networks operate, and it’s the kind of granular control that most people didn’t know that they were missing.
Last night, while I was playing around on Google+, Jesse Stay created circles for people he knew in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand. I saw another group for the deaf (more on that in a moment), and a host of other subjects.
Facebook gets pilloried in the press for their privacy controls, and rightly so. If you’ve ever tried to lock down your profile, you know that it’s a hugely painful process, still leaving a lot to be desired. The privacy settings screen is 3 clicks away from your profile.
G+ solves the privacy issue by allowing you to mouse over your profile information and edit the privacy level of each individual piece. On top of that, you can share each piece of information with specific Circles. Powerful stuff. The control is in the hand of the user. Tack onto that the fact that you can control who is allowed to tag you in photos, which of your circles are visible to the public, and a host of other granular privacy controls.
Data liberation deserves its own mention. For some reason it’s okay with Facebook to sync all of your contacts to your smart phone, but you can’t download all of your Facebook contacts to your computer. Google+ allows you to export a .vcf file for all of your contacts, as well as download a file of all of your posts, photos, videos, and other content you’ve uploaded to the site. That’s amazing.
Skype’s announcement of their integration into Facebook chat pales in comparison to Google Hangouts. Don’t get me wrong. I tried out
Fype Facechat, Skypebook Facebook video chat yesterday with a couple of friends and it seems to work, but most chat services have had video for years. One to one is nothing new.
Hangouts, though, are something entirely different. Last night I finally had the chance to try it out and I had a lovely chat with several people, including Alyson Stanfield and Eric McKirdy. Alyson is a fabulous art coach and Eric is a marketer/organ player/fellow Mormon. I know Alyson from Twitter and we’ve spoken on the phone and by email before, so we were mostly catching up and talking about how cool G+ is, but Eric I didn’t know. He saw my Hangout start and just dropped in. We talked for nearly 45 minutes, though we’ve never met before.
Hangouts are more than just video chat rooms. Google has figured out how to create a safe space for people to have meaningful interactions from hundreds of miles away. Facebook should be able to do this, but they must convince Skype to drop the fee for group video calling.
Distribution on Google Properties
The advantage that Google has that Facebook cannot match, no matter what they do, is that Google+ isn’t a standalone property. G+ is integrated into Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and more apps as time passes. I spend a great deal of my time in those three apps, and so do a lot of people.
Facebook can push notifications to mobile phones, but not to your desktop, unless you’re using something like Tweetdeck. Google+ allows you to get notifications while you’re working, as well as share status updates, links, and photos while you’re off of the site. Powerful stuff.
How will Facebook respond?
As you might guess, I think Google+ has a lot going for it. I like it better than Facebook, in fact. That doesn’t mean I think Facebook is doomed. They’re the incumbent player, with lots of money and a significant head start on what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately for Facebook, their mistakes have educated Google on what the public wants, and Google has hit them really hard in their weakest spots: privacy, granular sharing control, and distribution. Hangouts is a killer feature for now.
Last night Google+ opened up a bunch of new invites and I added a whole bunch of new people. What are your thoughts on Google+ so far?