29 September 2011

Join the Google+ tribe

Now that I've used Google+ for three months, I'm finally at the point where I feel comfortable writing about the social platform. I'd also like to make a case for why you would want to use Google+, and what you should use it for.

Facebook vs Google+

The obvious question on everyone's mind: which is better? Facebook or Google+?

At first blush the question appears premature: both Facebook and Google+ are in the midst of rolling out major changes. The new Timeline interface that Facebook announced at f8 will be rolled out to all users when we exit September. Which platform will be better come October? Should we just wait and see?

I believe the biggest changes to Facebook have already happened: improved Friends Lists, real-time updates, the Subscribe function, that scary "Frictionless Sharing". The much-discussed Timeline will only affect the presentation of our personal profiles—otherwise, the features we see on the current Facebook will pretty much be the same in October.

So: which is better, Facebook vs Google+?

A better question: Why would anyone want yet another social media platform?

The obstacles

When Google+ first opened to invites late June, the question was, Why would we want to move our friends from one network to another? Our Facebook network was built up slowly over the years by sending and accepting individual invitations. It would be a long, hard process to leave Facebook for another network, and to get others to do so.

It’s the fax machine analogy all over again: the first fax machine was essentially worthless, but once a second fax machine was installed, suddenly two organisations could exchange documents. As the number of machines in use increased, the value for everyone with fax machines increased. Now that everyone has a fax machine: why would I get another technology and platform, even if it were given to me for free?

Part of the answer to that question is, you’re probably already on Google+, whether or not you asked for it. If you’re a user of Google Calendar or Gmail, you would have seen your name up in the upper-left corner of the page. Thanks to this auto-inclusion, Google+ has 50 million users as of this writing.

Now the only question is, what good is 50 million users to connect with when none of which are your friends?

The new, old way to find friends online: Make them

Whether by chance or design, Google has sidestepped the question—for the power users, at least. Google+ users have been getting incredible mileage from Google+ by not bothering about their real-life friends. Google+ has made it extremely easy to finding interesting or relevant people to connect to.

First of all, Google+ adopts the Twitter model of one-way connections. That is, no permission is required from the other party before you make a connection. If you wish to read someone’s regular updates, you simply subscribe. That’s it. Like Twitter, geography and existing connections are no barrier—you don’t have to know someone who knows Guy Kawasaki in real life to read the ideas posted on his stream. Just type his name into the search box and hit Follow.

In other words, you can grow your network as big as you wish. As quickly as you wish. You're only limited by your attention span, and your ability to find interesting people to connect with.

Why would you connect to people other than your friends? This is probably a big question for you, if you wish to just connect with friends over the Web. But for creative people in search of an audience—writers, photographers, marketers, entrepreneurs, Google+ is an incredible tool for connecting with their muses, their peers, and the newsmakers. It’s like Google+ was built to help people rapidly assemble their tribe.

Google+ even lets you share entire lists of people whom you follow with your buddies, colleagues, even to the public at large. Just imagine: your friends can share their entire rolodex! I now have the ReadWriteWeb editorial team in a Circle—RWW’s Editor-in-Chief put the list up yesterday for all to follow.

To summarise: On Facebook, you curate the content shared by your network. On Google+, you curate the network. This might seem like a gimmicky way of saying we’re facing a challenge managing the massive content output of a large existing network on Facebook, but on Google+ we’re still busy adding friends.

But I suggest a different way to look at it: use the platforms according to their strength. And the strength of Google+ is the number of creatives that are on the platform.

 If your aim is to connect with people who share your passion and your interests; if you wish to grow an audience and take your message as far as possible—you want to be on Google+.