Thursday, July 21, 2011

Google+: Is there room for another social media site?

Can Google+ supplant Facebook as the most popular site (as Facebook did with MySpace, and MySpace did with Friendster)?

I have not even seen Google+ yet, as I am not one of those who has received an invitation (as they did with Gmail accounts initially, they're doling them out sparingly presumably to create a sense of exclusivity—when in fact the early adopters are likely just beta testers who don't realize they're helping get the kinks worked out), so I cannot comment on whether I think this new player has the likelihood of usurping the king.

But that won't stop me from offering unfounded speculation.

The primary aspect of its design that has been touted is the format of "circles," where one can (at least in theory) separate one's various sets of acquaintances into different groups (e.g., family, co-workers, friends from this activity, etc.)—an online replication of the social circles one has in real life. The appeal there is in contrast to Facebook's paradigm of where one simply has all these "friends" and one has to go to some effort to keep posts that are only appropriate to some to be seen only by them.

Of course, as I heard someone remark, part of the appeal of Facebook could be considered the ability one has to essentially eavesdrop on these others and see what they choose to reveal. To segregate one's acquaintances into these circles can help keep one's boss from seeing that inappropriate joke, but it does seem somehow less "social," and thus might be missing the point somewhat.

Sure, the big complaint people had with Facebook was the way the company changed privacy without notice—which is a serious problem, to be sure—but that didn't make everyone flee the Zuckerberg playground. It created some furor for a while, and it gave people who didn't like it that much an excuse to leave, but it didn't kill Facebook.

I'd wager that Google+ will catch not so much as to how well it improves on the Facebook experience—it seems likely it will take a long time for hundreds of millions of Facebook users to abandon that ship and go over to Google's side (if that ever happens), and until a lot of people are on it that one knows, there won't really be much there to allow one to draw a conclusion about whether it's superior (one needs most of one's "friends" to shift over more of less simultaneously, which may not be realistic for quite some time)—but by how it overcomes what I suspect is the key challenge it will have: people may have reached social media saturation.

These days, if one wishes to keep up with and comment on the goings-on with a particular subject, there can be a website or blog (or both), and a Facebook page, and the Twitter accounts of those involved Some people refuse to join some of those outlets, so it's not to the point where any of those is seeming outdated (the heyday of blogs certainly has passed, but that is not going away). I suspect those three (or four) may be as many as people (at least the "civilians" out there—not just the kids and the techies) consider for what they have room in their online lives.

Perhaps Google+ would be content with being a niche market (so to speak) where only to "cool" people go, but I doubt that's their aim. But if what they want is to be what relegates Facebook to has-been status, they'll have to overcome more than merely what people don't like about Facebook; they'll have to convince people that they have more time to spend online.

I'll report back in three years when my friends have hounded me into joining Google+… if it's even still around.


  1. One thing about Google+: it can generate email spam if you're not careful. When you join it taps into your email list, generating a few names, giving you the impression that those people are also on G+. But if you look closely, they aren't. After you give it permission G+ starts sending email copies of your posts.

    Once you get the hang of it the G+ interface is better than Facebook. I hate FB because it keeps changing its set-up. I get the feeling that some mid-level FB employees are trying to justify their paychecks by dreaming up new ways to "improve" the service when in fact they're just fucking it up.

  2. Addendum: Facebook became popular because My Space keep crapping itself up. Google+ might take off if enough people are fed up with Facebook crapping itself up.


So, what do you think?