Google launched its latest social media offering yesterday, Google+ (or ‘Google Plus’). Apart from a very bad name, I’m with Silicon Beach on this one, what is Google+ all about? Can it be a real challenger to Facebook or will it be a failure like Wave and Buzz?
This excellent blog post and video from Brandwatch does good job of summing it up. I also agree with the conclusion of the blog that it’s going to be a real struggle for Google’s latest offering to overcome Facebook. With over 500 million members Facebook is going to be a difficult beast to slay but despite a poor social media track record if anyone can do it then Google can. The failure of Buzz and Wave will have given Google insights into what people don’t want from social media and it looks like they may have learned from their mistakes.
From the videos I’ve seen of Google+ the interface looks great even just watching the videos makes me want to start using it (anyone got any invites??). It also offers some new functionality that Facebook does not, yet. You can be pretty sure that the designers and developers over at Facebook Towers are going to be just as interested in Google+ as the rest of us and it wouldn’t surprise me if we start seeing some big changes to the Facebook interface sooner rather than later.
One thing that particularly caught my attention when I first started reading about Google+ was the Circles functionality. This is a way of segmenting your ‘friends’ into groups. The obvious way to do this is to split people off into Friends/Family/Colleagues but you will also be able to do this by interest groups. My first thought on this was that it’s a great option to have. I met someone years ago proposing something very similar (though his model was more akin to Twitter than Facebook) and I’ve often wondered why it’s never taken off. It is (apparently) available in Facebook but it’s not very intuitive and certainly not a core part of updating your status. I’m always posting updates that only really seem relevent to segments of my followers/friends so this would be a good way to communicate with different groups in different ways.
However, when I started to think about social filtering in more detail, and after reading an excellent presentation on Real Life Social Networks I began to consider whether this really is a good thing or whether it’s just going to create another kind of Filter Bubble.
On twitter I currently follow 209 people and I read most of what those 209 people say. I wonder though, what I’d miss out on if social networks like Twitter and Facebook became more filtered? To quote Eric Schmidt “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not, in some sense, been tailored for them.” Could increased use of filtering make this the case for social media? Adding filters to social networks will probably remove some of the ‘irrelevant’ content but sometimes the ‘irrelevant’ content can be the most entertaining part of them!
Also, on a social level, if we’re only ever seeing the same side to people (the side they want you to see) then there’s a danger that we’ll learn less about people. I genuinely feel I’ve got to ‘know’ people through Twitter and Facebook just by hearing about their everyday lives. If there was filtering in place then I wonder if I would have seen the same information. If I was following someone who I’d only met at a work event then perhaps I’d be on their ‘web’ filter and only hear about their work/internet related activities and not about their passion for scuba diving or what their favourite Brighton pub is.
While the filtering aspect used Google+ Circles looks great and will almost certainly mean less people swearing in front of their mothers on social networks in future (sorry mum) could it also mean that social networks become a little bit less ‘social’?