Review: Does Google+ add up?

Google+

Public figures also use their personal Facebook page for their public persona. Problem is that this is limited to 5,000 friends and a number of Ugandans have hit that limit. A Facebook page for your fans and a personal Facebook profile for your close friends and family would solve this.

I, on the other hand, am very selective regarding who I accept as friends, basically real-life friends, close colleagues and actual family. I am not comfortable with sharing private information with people I do not know on Facebook. That is what Twitter is for! A person has even complained to a colleague of mine that I did not accept his friend request. How dare I!

So in walks Google+ with its talk of ‘circles’ and ‘hangouts’. Will this platform finally be the tool Google uses to break Facebook’s global dominance?

It has been almost a month since Google started giving a select few people access to their new social networking platform Google+. The buzz around the ‘soft’ launch was incredible.

So we all jumped on. OK a few of us jumped on. Globally the number sits at over 20 million. In Uganda the number is probably in the low thousands compared to 300,000 Ugandans on Facebook. And probably only a fraction of these users actually ‘use’ Google+. After the euphoria of that Google+ invite wore off, it was back to Facebook and Twitter.

But there is some real genius in Google+, mainly in how it is almost seamlessly integrated two things we all use on a daily basis: Google search and Gmail. Email remains the core of most users’ online experience and Gmail is the dominant email provider. It is how most of us conduct business and communicate with colleagues and friends and send files. Perhaps the day will come when we all communicate via social networking sites and send files through Dropbox, but we are not there yet.

Google knows this and is banking on Gmail’s dominance to boost Google+. But this dominance did not help the company’s previous ventures into social networking. Orkut was pretty successful but is on the decline. Google Buzz never really caught on. And I am not really sure what Google Wave is even for. This time it seems that Google has managed to learn from its previous mistakes and launch a pretty impressive platform.

The number-one seller for Google is the assurances (taken with a grain of salt of course) that security and privacy will be an absolute priority on Google+. A laxity or a general disregard for privacy has been one of the main criticisms of Facebook after they have repeatedly added features that a user has to opt out of in order to protect his/her identity. And no Facebook, those photos I posted on your site do not belong to you! If Google can get the security and privacy issues right, it could go a long way to convincing many people to make the switch.

Another innovation is the +1 button. It is enough to join Google+ for this feature alone. While it is fashioned after the Facebook ‘like’ button, the +1 is both more useful and more practical by functioning as a bookmarking service (think Delicious) rather than just ‘wow, this is cool’. Do you want to save that article or web page so you can go back to it in the future? Just +1 it. If Google adds the capability to manage and organize these +1′s then watch out! Plus you can see in the search results whether one of your ‘people’ also ‘added’ that page or article. This is true social bookmarking.

Eat that Facebook! The last innovation that Google+ introduces is ‘Circles’. Basically this is a simple way to manage your friends as ‘colleagues’ or ‘friends’ or ‘acquaintances’. Not just friends or friends of friends. So if you do not want your colleagues to read a post or see certain photos then don’t include them. Again pretty cool.

So will Google+ tear people away from Facebook? Not likely in the short term. But as we all get more and more used to the +1 tool and become more comfortable with the idea of circles then watch out Zuckerberg. But apparently Google+ still has a 5,000-friend limit. Come on Larry and Sergei, think about the Ugandans!

By Ole Tangen Jr.