Google’s new black navigation bar is the first outward-facing component of a massive social networking project the company’s been working on for over a year: Google+. I’ve been using Google+ during its “field test” (what we’d normally call a beta I think, but Google has forever ruined the public’s expectations of a beta), and I’ve come away impressed. It may be the first social networking tool I use, and enjoy using, on a daily basis.
While I have a personal Facebook and Twitter account, I find I rarely use them. Yes, Facebook’s endless privacy follies have given me cold feet, but more than anything I rarely have something I want to share with everyone I happen to be friends with on Facebook; the same goes for Twitter. Furthermore, staying on top of the flood of status updates on both social networks is a significant challenge. Ultimately, I find it too fatiguing to stay on top of Facebook and Twitter, and as a result end up using them only sporadically.
Google+ aims to solve this problem by offering a fundamentally different “following” and sharing model from Facebook and Twitter. Google+ allows you to establish “circles” of contacts, and you can choose to share your status updates with one or more circles. Thus, you end up setting up a variety of micro social networks consisting of your various social circles: your friends, your professional connections, your clients, and so on.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, with Google+ your social network mirrors your real-life social network: your various contacts are compartmentalized, and you can choose to share information selectively among your contacts (the underlying rationale behind Google+’s design is outlined beautifully in this presentation by Paul Adams.)
I, for example, have a several circles set up to mirror my real-world social circles: a “Professional Connections” circle set up for people in the legal industry I’d like to share with; a “Family” circle set up that I’ll post pictures of my kids to; a “Friends” circle that I’ll post pictures of last week’s BBQ to. You can add and customize your Google+ circles to your content, making them as small or as large as you like.
Google’s circles also help with filtering incoming information. Your stream by default contains updates from all of your circles, but you can easily filter your stream to only include updates from certain circles.
The benefits to the “circles” approach are so obvious it’s surprising Facebook, Twitter and others have been beaten to the punch by Google. It’s Google+’s killer feature, and its best hope of differentiating itself from other social networks.
After its failed experiments with Buzz and Wave, Google seems to have a success on its hands with Google+. By tapping into Google’s massive 1B+ userbase, Google+ will undoubtable reshape the social networking landscape, and it’s a change that I, for one, welcome.