Saturday, October 6, 2012

Google+: "Connecting and Sharing among People with Common Interests

The last few months a lot has been written about Google+, comparing it to Facebook.  I have personally found myself using Google+ much more than Facebook and I was not sure exactly why.  It was only recently when I tried to explain Google+ to some people that I gained an insight about this.

I started using Google+ because I like to try out new things.  I enjoyed exploring its various features and how to apply them to my work.  As I used it, I realized I was not going back to FB as much as I used to.  Initially I wanted to try and get my "friends" from FB over to Google+ and it bothered me a bit that they did not.  Then one day I realized it did not bother me at all.  I realized something that I think I knew all along, that at a very fundamental level Google+ and FB are completely different. How so?

FB's tagline says "Connect and share with people in your life".
My interpretation of "people in your life" is people you know or have known.  Once you connect with them i.e. "friend" them on FB, by default everything you post is visible to ALL your "friends".  The Pew Research Center in its report in May 2012 found:
• On average, users make 7 new Facebook friends per month; they initiate 3 requests and accept 4.
• Women average 21 updates to their Facebook status per month while men average 6.
• In a month, about half of our sample made a comment on a friend's content, and about half received a comment.
• Fewer than 5% of users hid content from another user on their Facebook feed.
Another key difference is the reciprocal relationship with other FB users.  Thus only after both users have mutually agreed to be friends can one see the other person's posts.

What this means is that till you agree to be friends you see NOTHING of what the other person posts and after becoming friends you usually see EVERYTHING that the other person posts.

Google+ at its very foundation was built on the concept of Circles and also allows Public posting which is very similar to a blog.

Public posts can be seen by anyone who follows you and are searchable on Google. People can comment on them, share them or +1 them.  You can see who these people are and view their public posts and decide if there are enough common interests that you can follow them back.  This leads to finding people of similar interest across the whole world - most often people you DO NOT KNOW.
People posting publicly are aware that these are open to the world and thus will not post private information like photos of their kids or what they had for breakfast.

Circles allow you to target your posts to specific people, and these are not visible to anyone outside the group (Circle) you specify.  This may seem to be similar to FB but it is not.  The list of people in your circles is unique to you.  Thus you could have a circle called Close Friends and have 5 people in that circle.  One of those 5 people may also have a circle called Close Friends and it may have 15 people in it.  You may not be in that circle.  These asymmetric circles can be confusing but allow for great autonomy in targeting your posts and filtering your stream.  The ability to mention specific people in posts allows you to include them in the conversation in a granular manner.
Create Circles based on you interest or projects

Now you can target your posts to those circles or keep them Public

You can filter your information stream using your circles and notification settings

Google+ allows you to share a circle.  Thus if you have collected a group of people with interest in HDR photography from across the world you can share it with other users.

The consequence of these differences are:

  1. You are more likely to connect with people you DO NOT KNOW on Google+ compared to FB.  In this way it is a bit like Twitter.  
  2. You are more likely to connect with people with similar interests.  The shared circles feature is a bit like Twitter lists.  
  3. You are less likely to see uninteresting or irrelevant content on Google+ especially things that you feel people should have shared with a fewer folks. 
  4. Due to the ability to filter your feeds and adjust your notifications (in a very easy manner) you feel in control of your information stream.