Google+ gives social media users yet another alternative

Kevin Schaul

Last week, Google unveiled its second attempt at a social media platform: Google+. A small sample of users has been to beta test the new service, and while initial user reaction is positive, Google has a high mountain to climb in enticing users to make the switch.

Google+’s most prominent feature, Circles, erases any privacy confusion, something many Facebook users have been longing for. Loosely similar to Facebook’s listing feature, Google+ users create “circles” to place users in, organizing them by the desired level of interaction. Family, friends, work and acquaintances are example circles created by default to ease users into the new structure. Posts can be shared with as many or as few circles as the user wants.
Don’t want to pester your friends with posts about the latest gadget? Create a “circle” for techies. Want to share vacation photos with your family? It couldn’t be easier. Circles creates less clutter by enabling your friends to personalize what they share with you.

But Circles aren’t just for convenience; they’re central to Google+’s privacy controls. Every action in Google+ states exactly who can see what on your profile. With the “view profile as …” feature, know exactly what your boss can access on your page. We can all take a collective sigh of breathe knowing that Google+ gives us the option to opt-in to being “tagged” in photos (even on a per-circle basis), a feature Facebook glaringly lacks.

Additionally, the terms of service for Google+ are (almost) readable to mere mortals. Among them is a clause against the usage of fake aliases. Google is soon requiring all users make public their full name and gender. But all is not well; also included are vague clauses indicating questionable ownership of content uploaded to Google+.

Beyond privacy, Google+ offers a wealth of features borrowed from other social networks. Similarities abound between Facebook’s News Feed and Google+’s Stream. Facebook’s ubiquitous Like button is being juxtaposed with Google’s +1 button around the web. Even the interface feels copied.

Besides a few features that have potential, Google+ is basically another social networking site, albeit run by a company with some web force behind it. But these new features may be enough to entice users to begin the transition from other social networking sites. Hangout, a group video chat service integrated with Google+, supports Skype-like calling for up to ten people at once. The other headlining feature, Sparks, is an interest-based content reader.

Clearly it is early in the game, but Google has played its cards right. Practicing a wait-and-see approach, Google took what works from both Facebook and Twitter to create a hybrid of sorts. And with the monster Google is, Google+ won’t go down without a fight.