Google+ and thoughts on social networking

Have you heard about Google+? It’s the currently invite-only social network set up by Google to attempt to dethrone Facebook as the social media giant. Since it’s in beta and invites can still be hard to come by, it’s whipped up a lot of interest and discussion from social networkers, bloggers, and tech geeks. But it doesn’t seem that the hype has reached most other people, with some not even recognizing the name.

But a big question here is whether it’d be worth it for most people to switch over and start new if Facebook is already meeting all or most of the needs of its user base. It’s the equivalent of a new MMORPG starting up and trying to convince World of Warcraft players to join; everyone shrugs and asks “what do you have that I’m not already getting?”

I use Facebook primarily for two reasons: getting updates from people I actually want to be getting updates from (no, seriously – I have under 50 friends!), and sharing interesting links (both receiving information in my feed from places like BlogHer and Lifehacker, as well as ┬ásending/receiving geekiness with friends through walls and messages).

As far as I can tell, Google+ is better at both of those things. There’s a Sparks tab to look at pages relevant to interests (though I’d like to see the option to save my interests and have the Sparks page be kind of like a feed) and share them, site/brand/fan pages are apparently coming soon (so I can get the blogs I read directly in my feed… err… stream? I’m mixing up all my social networking terminology now).

As an added bonus, Google+ has put a lot of emphasis on the Circles feature, where you can drag and drop people into different groups, and for every piece of information you put out, you’re prompted about which circles you’d like to have see this. This would be handy for when I don’t want to clog up everyone’s feed with my Doctor Who fangirling, but have several friends who’d be interested in seeing it (without me having to post it on each of their individual pages).

And let’s be honest – I’d really like to not feel like a jerk for turning down friend requests all the time because I don’t want updates about what the person I had a single class in high school with had for lunch. Hey, sure, I’ll add you! I’ll just stick you in this circle where you don’t see anything that would’ve gotten me teased as a teenager, and I’ll never check this circle on my stream and be subjected to your diet updates. Or hey, ex-boyfriend-that-tries-to-add-me-every-couple-months, you can go right in your own little circle so you can’t social network stalk me but I don’t have to actually┬áturn you down.

Facebook does have the same sort of feature in the form of lists, but it’s not well publicized, and the process of adding and organizing lists and people within them is a big pain, while Google+’s circles are simple and intuitive.

I really like both of those features, and while the whole place is still kind of a ghost town due to its beta stage of development, I like the fresh, clean feel to it.

Remember switching from Myspace, which had the option to completely customize every aspect of the profile (often resulting in seizure-inducing GIFs, backgrounds, and color combinations) and banner ads on all sides, to Facebook with its clean and simple blue and white?

It’s a similar feeling with Google+. No ads, no countless updates about whoever’s CityVille/Farmville/something-ville or those ridiculously annoying “so and so answered a question about so and so” that fill up a feed so quickly. I know this will be brief – the Facebook games will invade and there will likely eventually be ads. But for now?

Sweet simplicity.

I don’t know if Google+ can compete with Facebook. I’m not sure how wise it is to put even more information in Google’s hands – though I do know that if it allows integration between Google+ and other Google Apps, I will officially throw my right to privacy out the door and hop on that bandwagon.

Only time will tell; to use the Myspace example again, it was on top of the world for a few years and seemed so promising, and now it’s nearly dead. Who’s to say the same won’t happen with Facebook? But even if Facebook stomps down the fledgling Google+, I hope it takes some ideas from the competition and streamlines some of the features already available.