Google, in typical Google fashion, just dropped a bomb on us in the mild form of a blog post: introducing Google+, the new social networking service from Google! And to answer your first question, no, you don’t need to panic and go disable it right now. It’s not live yet, and won’t be for a while. Live and learn, I suppose. So, to answer your second question, should you be excited? Terrified? Hit the jump to find out more.
OK, So, Did Google Just Reinvent Facebook?
Nope! In fact, early on in the introductory blog post, Google has a quite a few very thoughtful things to say on the subject of social:
Not all relationships are created equal. So in life we share one thing with college buddies, another with parents, and almost nothing with our boss. The problem is that today’s online services turn friendship into fast food—wrapping everyone in “friend” paper—and sharing really suffers.
Given that these sentences are being written by the same company that decided not too long ago that you want to share everything on your Blogger account with whatever seemingly random group of people Buzz threw together for you, the above quote is surprisingly thoughtful. Indeed, if you were to interact with me in multiple areas online, you’d see very different people. I share different things on Twitter than I do on Facebook. I have a different conversational tone in comment threads than I do on IRC. And Google’s correct that making these distinctions in tone is difficult unless you simply change who you are based on what social network you’re using is.
Google’s answer to this is a concept called Circles. The idea is simple, and mirrors a lot of the Groups features of other social networking services. You can easily drag and drop the people you know into different “Circles”. The folks you get together with on the weekend? They’ve got a circle. Your family? A circle of their own. What’s unclear is if you can add people to multiple circles, or if you can have an “all” circle. Sometimes it is nice to post something to your entire collective and see who it sticks to. What is clear, though, is that Google’s demo of the concept is slick. It looks like this isn’t representative of the final project, but if it’s an indication of how things will look/feel when it launches, it’ll be gorgeous.
Groups Circles Are Cool, But What Does It Do That Facebook Doesn’t?
Actually, quite a bit from the sound of it. The blog post also discusses how we interact with other people via shared interests:
Healthy obsessions inspire sharing, and we’ve all got one (or two, or three…). Maybe it’s muscle cars, or comic books, or fashion, but the attraction is always the same: it comes up in conversation, we immediately jump in, and we share back and forth with other fans. Often for hours. The trick is getting things started, and getting over that initial hump. Fortunately, the web is the ultimate icebreaker.
In keeping with the “Wait, Google actually sounds like they kind of get it,” mentality, this is another good point. Connections are made with people based on shared interests, and this is one major flaw with current social networks. You can include someone in a group based on how you know them, or you can even join a group that’s built on a shared interest, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a blank page waiting for someone to say something.
Enter Sparks. The closest analogue I can think of to Sparks is the various Facebook groups devoted to whatever subject someone creates a group for. Or, alternatively, fan pages for shows/musicians/things you like. Sparks is different in that you’re able to enter whatever you’d like, and you get a feed of items pulled from all over the web, like a topics-based RSS feed. This is perhaps one of the most innovative features because it combines the social networking aspects of the new Google+ with what Google does best: search. A demo video shows a user adding some interests, finding items in their new Sparks feeds, and then picking a couple Circles to share an item with. Comment threads directly below shared items encourage conversations about the content, and each comment even has it’s own +1 button (subtle, Google).
It’s almost a perfect reversal of Facebook’s like button. Facebook is attempting to integrate it’s social network into the web via the Like button. Google, on the other hand, wants to bring the web to the social network.