For many people, Facebook is a mess. With its frequent privacy fails and constant layout updates, the annoying Farmville and Mafia Wars type games, and the impossible to manage Groups or Pages, people have become fed up of Facebook. Zuck and his crew have done well though, by constantly adapting, remaining agile and using their sheer market dominance to quash other networks.
When Twitter started to gain traction Facebook changed their application’s focus from your own wall to a bright new shiny newsfeed. A live stream of what your friends are saying and doing along with the ability to @mention people in status updates. When Foursquare began making waves Facebook implemented Places so you could check-in anywhere. And now what was the point of continuing with Foursquare if you could check-in with Facebook where all your friends could see? For every major competitor that emerged Facebook altered its offering to conquer and destroy. To fight Flickr they developed their new gallery-style photos system. Groupon was coming on strong so Facebook now brings you Deals. The people at Formspring might have something there, so Facebook suddenly offers Questions. And the list goes on. With all this it appeared there was nobody who could actually combat Facebook at their own game and really bring it. Until Google+
Google had tried and miserably failed with social before. I ignored Wave and only dipped a toe to see what all the Buzz was about. In Brazil and India they dominated for years with Orkut (where I had a profile for a short period in 2007) and of course they have taken YouTube to unparalleled heights since acquiring it to replace their woeful Google Video competitor. But when I heard about Google+ the penny dropped. Eureka. By Jove. They actually, really, positively had it. And I’m in.
So What is Google+ ?
Well it can be explained as a hybrid, or sort of bastard child of Facebook and Twitter. In Google+ you don’t add friends you just follow people and they may or may not follow you back. This following type approach is determined by what Google have called Circles, a genius way of managing who sees what you post.
When you join Google+ you are presented with four predefined circles which you can very easily rename, keep or add to. The default circles are Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following. There is also an unnamed circle which you can just drag somebody into to create a new circle.
What are Circles?
Circles are groups of people you follow (don’t let the existence of a circle called Following confuse this). You add somebody to a circle to start receiving their updates. They will be notified that you have added them to a circle but they will never, at any time, be told which circle. So go ahead and create a circle called Total Wankers or Complete Bitches, they won’t know. OK, got that? So you add somebody to a circle to start receiving their updates. Right. But you won’t actually get their updates unless they add you to one of their circles. And they don’t have to add you back. If you’re familiar with Twitter you’ll immediately understand this, it works in exactly the same way.
Now at this stage I should also mention that there are also two additional groups in Google+ which are not circles per sé. These are Public and Extended circles. You don’t create these, they just exist. And you can’t add people to them.
When you post something on Google+ you choose (very easily) which circles should see that post. You can choose Public, which means anybody looking at your Public profile can see it; Your Circles, which means it is available to anybody you have put into your circles; Extended Circles, which means it’s available to people who are in the circles of people in your circles (the same as Facebook’s Friends of Friends); or you can select one or more of your individual circles to make it available only to people in those specific circles. That is genius. Facebook has had this ability for years but it’s cumbersome to set up and use so most people don’t. Google+ has it at its core, so it’s intuitive and simple.
I have italicized ‘available to’ above because people in your circles will not see your updates until they’ve added you to at least one of their circles too. There is no Add as Friend functionality in Google+, just circling and circle-backs. Sounds rude doesn’t it?
To clarify. If you add somebody to one of your circles it means you want to receive their updates. But you won’t receive their updates unless they’ve added you to one of their circles and then you’ll only receive posts they send to the circle they’ve put you in. And vice versa. Remember, however, that everybody can see any posts you mark as Public. Got that? Good. Now let’s move on.
You can add people to multiple circles, so you might have a colleague in your Work circle as well as your Silly Jokes circle. Don’t worry, if you post something to all of those circles they only get it once! Circles is great because obviously people you know and interact with often straddle across your social circles, right? Right! Your best friend might be in many circles at once like Friends, Poker Group, and Sports News, and your partner might be in Family, Friends, and that temporary Barcelona Trip circle you’re planning with a group of close friends.
Grown Up Social Networking
For me Google+ is a chance to start over again and do social networking properly. You know, create a circle called Old School
Friends People and never send anything to it, another called Ex Girlfriends and send speculative ‘unless you g’on do it’ type jokes, and maybe even one called Execute just to keep my enemies closer. In reality I have set up circles like Business Acquaintances, Clients, Lad’s Banter, News and a few others. There isn’t really an Ex Girlfriends one, sweetheart – honest. That’s just jokes.
Anyway, Google+ allows me to easily place people I want to follow into these circles and post relevant things to them. I might want to post a silly video about Nigerian comedy to my Family circle and Friends circle knowing that my Business Acquaintances, Clients and Colleagues don’t need or want to see that. Nawa! Ah-ah!
There are many other great features in Google+ such as Hangouts, which lets you start a video chat session with up to 10 people at the same time, Huddles, which allows you to send group instant messages (much like BBM and WhatsApp) on the mobile versions of Google+ and Sparks, which lets you add streams of interests (much like newsfeeds in Google Reader) and easily share content from those with your circles.
Open, not Closed
The immense possibilities of Google+ lies in it’s open nature. Whereas Facebook is closed and only lets you operate within it, Google+ is open and spans the entire web. With Facebook you have to bring content into Facebook to do anything with it, with Google it’s already there because let’s be serious – outside of Facebook, Google IS the web! And as Google eventually begin to integrate all of their products into the Google+ framework, I envision Google+ becoming a massive global success. You know how you always wanted to be more creative in those pesky Facebook notes, well just imagine what you’ll be able to do when you can use Google Docs spreadsheets, slide presentations and word processing documents within Google+. And picture the possibilities when you’ll be able to Google+ stuff on Google Maps directly. Wow.
The +1 Button
Google+ and the +1 button are not one and the same thing. You might like to think of it as Google+ being the Facebook equivalent and the Google +1 button being the equivalent to the Facebook Like button. The possibilities for business and marketers is enormous. At this time Google have said +1 figures will not be a search engine rankings factor, but they have indicated that it may be in the future. Take it from me now, it damn well will be in the future. Let me give you a scenario.
You’re looking for a new washing machine or smartphone, whatever. Yes you can go on Facebook or Twitter and put out a message asking what your friends and followers recommend, but generally we all start with a quick Google Search. Now since the launch of +1 I’m sure you will have noticed the +1 button appearing beside each site in Google’s search results. You have, haven’t you?
Well guess what, when everybody is more familiar with +1 what will happen is you’ll search for “Buy a new HTC in London” and get your page full of Google results. And next to those sites the +1 button will say 300 +1’s or 72k +1’s. That’s a good indicator isn’t it? If 72,000 people +1’d that site it’s worth clicking right? Cool. But it gets better. Next to each result it will show you who in your circles have +1’d that site too. So it will say Joe Bloggs, Jane Doe, Chris Amadi and Uche Chukwu +1’d this. And you’ve got to admit, that’s freaking genius, isn’t it. No longer will you have to guess which search results to click first, your friends will guide you because they’ve already been there and are recommending it for you.
Can you see how massive that is? Facebook can never give you that. With Facebook you’d have to click into the site and then look for their Facebook fan box, if they’re displaying it. The implications for this are huge for marketing and search engine ranking. Can you now see why this will be a major factor in search rankings in the future, particularly with personalised search results?
If you don’t already have the +1 button on your site or blog you really should be thinking about how you’re going to get it on there. Talk to your web developer immediately. If you don’t have a web developer, talk to me, I can help.
Google+ is not without its flaws or growing pains. There are several articles already listing features Google+ should incorporate very quickly, workarounds, shortcuts, and others which detail its shortcomings, and there are a few of those. But I think it will get there, after all it has only been around for about four weeks. Facebook has been around for more than 7 years and Twitter for more than 5 years. So let’s just be a little bit more patient, eh? For further reading check out Mashable’s comprehensive Google+ Guide
If you want to join Google+ it’s now open to everybody, you just need to sign in with your Google account. For most people this will be your GMail account, you only need one account to sign into all Google services. Once inside you just need to create a public profile and you’re off.
Add me to your Circle
Here’s my Google+ profile link https://plus.google.com/105503030546676718985. Don’t be alarmed to see my full name at the top of the page, you are priveleged :-)
(By the way, if you’re in the UK and are still using an @googlemail.com address you should click the message at the top of your messages list to convert yours to an @gmail.com address. All messages sent to your @googlemail.com address in future will still always come to your @gmail.com address forever).
+1 This Article
Well after reading all that, you can’t possibly leave without +1’ing this post can you? Do the honours below, and while you’re at it don’t forget to Like it too… ta