Google+ was released recently, and the general reaction has been somewhere between “not bad” and “it’s kind of like Facebook, except not.” I’m excited for a few reasons.
My feeling towards Facebook is similar to my feelings towards Microsoft and Research in Motion. I have nothing against either of those companies personally, and I used both Windows and Blackberries for over a decade. But neither Microsoft nor RIM has released a competitive product in years, and as a result, Apple has blown them both out of the water. (If either of them came up with a competitive product, I’d be more than happy to jump back.)
In short, I don’t think Facebook offers a competitive product, but there hasn’t been a competitor to demonstrate why that is, until now. There are a few systemic problems with Facebook:
Facebook still assumes you want to share everything with everyone.
This worked when only your friends were on Facebook, but this isn’t the case anymore, and Facebook hasn’t adapted. It doesn’t give you control over some basic things, like who gets to tag you in photos. I’m sorry, but I don’t want a picture of me downing a Guinness popping up in my third-grade teacher’s News Feed.
I also don’t have a Facebook wall because I can’t easily control who can post publicly to my wall and who can’t. So that means I don’t have a Facebook wall and no tagged photos. (Google+ lets you choose whose tagged photos will be approved and whose won’t.)
I also can’t delete my Facebook account, only “deactivate” it. Not having those options available makes me very leery of Facebook’s store-all, reply-all, tell-all approach to sharing.
Which leads me to my main point. I think it’s genius what Google+ has done with Circles. In the real world, people have subsets of friends. They have good, better, and best friends. They have family and coworkers. These delineations and determinations are sometimes (or usually) made subconsciously, but we all do it.
Google has recognized this and come up with Circles — e.g. Family, Friends, or Acquaintances. That means I can share a slightly inappropriate, wildly funny video with my friends without sharing it with my sisters and my cousins and my aunts. Or I can send my performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “When I Was a Lad” to my family without sharing it with my friends. (Just an example!)
You can accomplish this by setting up Friend Lists and Groups in Facebook, but it’s not easy. Furthermore, and more importantly, Facebook fixed the problem backwards. They set up Friends Lists so you could restrict who sees what, assuming you want to share with everyone. Google+ does the opposite, by having you select the people you want to share with on a per-item basis. There’s no way to share something with everyone in Google+. (Whodathunk?)
This makes sense though, doesn’t it? If I run across something, there are only particular people I want to share it with — not my entire address book.
Also, a small thing: after watching Facebook’s new features announcement, I felt bad for them. Their big announcements were Group Chat, New Design, and Video Calling (feat. Skype). Google has all of that covered, in Gmail alone!
It’ll be interesting to see how Google+ develops, but it’s safe to say that Facebook now has real competition.