Google+ opens to a small crowd – for now

18 Jul

July 18, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

Senior citizens are the fastest growing segment of users on Facebook. Of those, women outnumber men two to one.

For the young crowd, this is not always a good thing.  There is no greater “buzz kill” than when Grandma comments on debauched photos from last night’s party.

Facebook has gone mainstream. It is no longer “cool”.

The timing then, for the launch of Google+, a new social networking site, couldn’t be better. The tech wizards at Google put a lot of thought into the development of this Facebook alternative, and it does have some neat features.

The most obvious difference, besides the clean, white layout, is the “circles” system of organizing and communicating with friends. Contacts are grouped into various categories, from close friends to acquaintances to relatives to colleagues at work, and so on. You can communicate with each circle directly, using language and levels of familiarity that are appropriate to each.

I’ve been a member of Google ‘Plus’, as it is pronounced, for more than a week. I’ve not spent a lot of time with it, mainly because things are still pretty slow there – it feels like a big, empty barn, before the party starts. I’ve got about 25 contacts, dispersed across seven or eight circles, so the “social” piece is not there yet.

Arjun Basu has had time to play with Google+, and likes what he sees so far. Arjun is a writer, editor and social media devotee who has pioneered 140-character fiction on Twitter (@arjunbasu). Arjun said he actually prefers Google+ in, of all places, a Facebook update.

In a message exchange, Arjun said he wasn’t sure about the service at first, because it was thinly populated, and mainly by the technorati at that.

Arjun Basu.

“But. Then you play. You start adding people. And that’s the first thing you notice. You add people to circles, you are forced to already think about how you are going to interact with the various people on the site and then you can control who receives your message… The stream of messages is also controllable. In many ways, Google+ feels like Facebook designed by adults. There is no need for reciprocity. So you can be followed but not follow back. The language is not about being ‘friends’ – you control that as well. The interface is better. And since Google+ is incorporated into Google overall, anyone with gmail is bound to feel that the whole experience is seamless from the start.”

Note the similarity to Twitter, in that you can follow others without them following you. Clever.

Arjun said he was skeptical about the launch of Google+, after the disappointment of recent projects like Wave and Buzz.

“Those were disasters,” he said. “But I warmed to it very quickly. I’ve been on it less than a week (as have most people on the site) and the ‘What’s Facebook?’ jokes have already started. That’s very, very fast. Google was smart. They knew, given the disasters of Buzz and Wave, that the tech and tech-forwards would be most critical, most ready to pounce. But for the most part the reaction has been good. Because the product is good. It’s only a week old and it already feels mature. Interesting that.”

The video and photo quality is also noticeably better, Arjun said. “The media is far, far better – larger images, better much, much higher quality. I just uploaded a 30-minute episode of a television show. Imagine trying to do that on Facebook. Another thing – you can edit, even after posting. I think for a lot of people, that feature is going to be very attractive.”

These are all good points, and Google+ is probably superior to Facebook in all ways, except one: number of users.

Right now, with a population of 750 million, Facebook is the phone book of the Internet. If you are looking for people, from business contacts to old friends, there’s a good chance you will find them on Facebook.

According to one online source, 10 million people have signed on to Google+. It’s got a long way to go before it catches Facebook. It may never do so.

But, for a select few younger, more “with it” users, that’s a good thing. They’ve found a better user interface with a more intuitive social structure.

And Grandma is not lurking their profile.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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