Google+ is setting the standard for the future of social networking sites.
You may be asking yourself, “Google+? The same Google+ that everyone predicted would change the Internet for about three days until everyone abandoned their profiles?”
Yes, that one.
When Google+ launched last summer, many avid social networkers looked towards this platform as a new wave of innovation that would quickly gain popularity, leaving a cloud of dust in the faces of its competitors. Of course there were skeptics, like those who compared Google’s bold attempt to dabble in social media to Bing, Microsoft’s sub par attempt at a search engine. For many, Google’s reputation and suite of popular products and services gave them little reason to believe that Google+ wouldn’t be a massive hit.
Initially deemed The Google+ Project, its intention was to serve as an offshoot of Google (and implicitly, a way to heat up the competition with Facebook) to make the company more socially-accessible as a whole. But while it may not have blown giants like Facebook out of the water (or even landed in the same pool for that matter), Google+ shouldn’t be written off entirely. Many of its features push the boundaries of what it means to share online, which was a large part of Google’s goal in the first place.
One of the main ways Google+ differs from Facebook is the organization of friends. Rather than having one long list of people like Facebook, users divide people into circles based on their shared interests and characteristics. Family, coworkers, friends from preschool -- you can make a circle just for those people, and then choose what information gets shared with which circles. If you’ve ever thought, “I’d love to upload a picture of this inappropriate street sign, but I know Aunt Jane will bring it up at Thanksgiving”, this feature makes sense. These restrictions are possible with Facebook friend lists, but Google+ allows its circles to drive the sharing process.
Another key element of the platform is called Hangout, a group video chat tool where users can start a visual conversation that pops up on other users’ streams (the equivalent of the Facebook news feed), and up to nine others can join in or drop out as they please. Hangout could potentially facilitate new connections amongst groups that may not associate otherwise. One unique aspect of this shift in Google as a whole is the focus on sharing photos on a level beyond Instagram. The integration of Picasa and Flickr on Google+ makes high-quality photo sharing easy with as many or as few circles as you want. These features, as well as the recent merging of Google Places to Google+ Local, exemplify how the platform promotes online connections drawing from a variety of already well-known tools.
Despite the hard hits it received after a steady decline in popularity, Google+ still has 170 million registered users, so it seems unfair to call the social network obsolete.
While I can’t really picture myself falling head-over-heels with Google+ like many of us have with Facebook, its unique customization and integration of multiple Google products sets a precedent for other sites to capitalize not just on the importance of sharing cat videos, but on the nature of our internet activity as a tool for making connections.