I’ll spare you the summary post for Google+; you can get that on TechCrunch, Mashable, the New York Times and in about a thousand other places. It’s a social sharing component that’s directly integrated into Google, enhancing everything they do. It puts privacy front and center using a long-rumored feature called Circles, which in my opinion mostly serves to make the user feel safe (after all, the data is still all stored on Google’s servers, so any appearance of deep privacy is an illusion). It learns from your social activity in order to recommend new content, thereby facilitating a kind of serendipity in content discovery that’s long been missing.
Although I haven’t used it first-hand yet, and Google often lets its ideas down with poor user experience, I think the concepts are brilliant: much-needed enhancements to the social networking paradigm that take it beyond the 2004-era profiles-friends-posts model. I can’t wait to try it out.
They’re not pushing this aspect too hard, but I think Google+ is going to be strongest in the area where Facebook is weakest: small to medium businesses. You’d have to be an idiot to try and use Facebook as an internal communication tool in any company, but by adding Circles, Google+ enables just that: you can share real-time content between just a small number of people. More than that, though, up to ten people can videoconference live, optionally while consuming that same content.
If Google have pulled this off, and if Google+ is properly integrated with Google Apps, they’ve instantly created the best business collaboration tool on the market – as well as a great tool for people who want to share in a much deeper, less trivial way than Facebook currently allows. If they then add an API layer, as they have with many of their other offerings, they’ve created a social layer for the web, just as Google Maps is for many people a location layer. It’s a really big deal.
Of course, it’s centralized on Google’s servers, and educational institutions, government organizations and anyone with a legal or ethical obligation to treat users’ data as being private should stay away. The decentralized web community is busy creating better tools for those use cases, and for anyone who cares deeply about privacy, as well as entirely new interface models. Circles itself is not a million miles away from Diaspora’s Facets, for example, and there’s still everything to play for. Nonetheless, Google have iterated social networking as a concept, and I’m fascinated to see how the web community in general responds.
Update: Google also announced Google Takeout today: a tool that allows you to export your Google data and take it with you. Google+ is very much in the mix here. Could this be the first mainstream social network to achieve real data portability? Given the number of decentralized social web advocates on the team, it wouldn’t be surprising.
Update 2: I took an export of my Google account via Takeout (you can do the same here) and although it’s impressive, I was left with questions. Why does Google Buzz export as a huge number of HTML files rather than an Activity Stream, for example? Where are my Google Docs files? It looks like the bundle wasn’t designed to import into other software, which I would have thought is kind of the point?