NOTE: This review was written when G+ first came out, so much of the information is either outdated or, quite frankly, incorrect. I wrote this while I was still learning the ins and outs of G+, so much of how I thought things worked is not, in fact, how things work. I’m leaving it here as an interesting footnote on the topic of social media, but I would not view this as an accurate depiction of G+ vs Facebook vs Twitter.
The first round of Google+ invites went out a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get in fairly early on, so I’ve been able to spend some quality time with this new social media offering from Google. So far, my experience has been pretty great and I only see good things coming down the pipeline if Google can continue to stabilize the site and work out just a few kinks in the system.
Anyway, you’re here for a comparison of the big social media sites and why I think Google+ (herein referred to as “G+”) could be the best of the bunch now and for the foreseeable future if they play their cards right. I’m going to break these down by each site’s pros and cons, to make it easy to see why G+ is the best of all three (and more) social worlds. By the way, this will not be a teaching tool as to what G+, Twitter, and Facebook are; it’s assumed that you’re fairly knowledgeable about these social media services. That being said, if you have any questions or need an explanation, leave a comment and I’ll try my best to help.
Why Google+ is Better Than Facebook, Twitter, and Everything Else
- You can follow anyone – celebrities, politicians, newsmakers, and experts in the fields you care about. This also gives you unbarred access to them to add your voice to the conversation, but to also interact with them one-on-one. For example, I’ve had conversations with director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World); , actress and social media powerhouse, Alyssa Milano; cult favorite funnyman and knower-of-all-things, John Hodgman; and numerous people who write for websites that I really respect, who could be considered “internet famous”.
- Share links via your own posts or “retweet” (RT) someone else.
- The 140 character limit can make it difficult to get the point across. The shortened language needed to effectively communicate is not always easy for everyone to write or understand. Unless you’re a pretty decent writer, you might have a hard time shortening what you want to say to less than 140 characters. Furthermore, even with URL-shortening services, the 140 character limit is a pain to work around.
- The 140 character limit is an antiquated limit put on the website from its infancy, back when people were only using the website or receiving text message updates from the 10 Followers they had. Now that most people Follow hundreds of other Twitter users, very few people get text message updates anymore, but the site still insists on using the 140 character limit. Most people (54% according to Twitter) use an app on their smart phone, third-party apps on their computer (like the recently-purchased-by-Twitter TweetDeck), or the website itself to access Twitter, so there’s no good reason to keep the 140 character limit, yet they have.
- There’s no good way to organize the hundreds of people you Follow through Twitter. Yes, there are Lists, but Twitter has never really done anything with them, so people don’t really use them other than for about the first week they were announced a few years ago. Lists are definitely not touted as a “feature” of the service by any means.
- I often check Twitter when I can’t necessarily view everything that’s linked to. For example, I usually read Twitter while eating lunch at work, but videos are disabled there. Or I’ll check it on my phone while standing in line at Walmart and I don’t necessarily have time or want to read an article on my phone. So I use Favorites to set a bookmark that I can return to the tweet later and watch the video or read the article when it’s best for me to do so. Twitter has never really done anything with Favorites (it took Fav.Star for some people to even know they existed), so most third-party apps don’t even show you the tweets you’ve favorited. This means you have to go twitter.com to actually see your Favorites.
- Retweeting is great, but when there are a handful of different ways to do it, it can be confusing to newbies. “RT @username”, “via @username”, or the copyright lawsuit-saving Twitter retweet format that doesn’t do any of these, but instead makes a person you don’t follow suddenly show up in your Twitter feed, are just some of the ways RTs are handled, which can be confusing even for a Twitter pro.
- Every tweet goes out into the ether to be read and seen by anyone. Your friends, your family, your co-workers, total strangers you didn’t know were following you, and anyone who happens to find your Twitter account. The only option you have is to lock down your account by going Private, which takes you out of the conversation quite a bit and makes using Twitter almost pointless. Privacy is very all-or-nothing on Twitter. If you don’t feel like you can share whatever you’d like because it’s not private, you won’t share anything at all, and you’ll stop using the service. But if you feel like you’re just screaming into the void by having your account locked down, you’ll stop using it, too. Again, all-or-nothing.
- Everybody’s already on it.
- Everybody’s already on it – including your mom, your dad, your grandma, your grandpa, your Great Aunt Betty, your cousin three times removed, that old high school friend you haven’t spoken to since graduation, co-workers, your boss, ex-co-workers, people you met at a party, and plenty of people you just don’t care to interact with. I’d love to see statistics on what percentage of Friends people actually interact with and how many are hidden.
- There’s no privacy. If you post about a new movie you just saw, everybody is going to see how you feel about it, which is fine. If you post what you had for lunch today, everybody is going to see it, which is fine, but stupid. If you want to tell your friends/family about the new job you were just offered, everybody is going to see it, including your current boss, current co-workers, and your cousin three times removed. If you post some crazy pictures of the “Clothes Optional” party you went to last weekend, everybody – bosses, co-workers, grandma, mom, and your cousin three times removed – will see them. Just Google “Fired because of Facebook” and you’ll see why this can be a problem, even if you think you’re pretty social media savvy.
- Not everybody wants to read your thoughts on what you feel passionate about (particularly religion and/or politics), but they would like to know when your infant son starts walking, how enchanting your daughter looked in her prom dress this year, and what tropical hideaway you and your wife visited for your 10 year anniversary. Overload them with your opinions on stuff they don’t care about (Your love or hate for Obama/Conservatives/Liberals/God/Jesus/Allah/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck/Oprah/Tom Cruise/gays in the military/the music of ABBA/the current cuteness rating of your six-week old kitten/etc.) and they’ll block out all the stuff they do care about, which negates the whole reason of having a social network to begin with.
- You can Like a post, but good luck finding it again if you want to come back to it later, making it pretty useless as a bookmarking tool.
- The status updates from your favorite brands, websites, celebrities, family and friends are all in one stream of data. You could easily miss something that’s important – a baby being born, a death in the family, your cousin three times removed coming out of the closet – because your stream of information was clogged up with a brand new promotion to buy Charmin Toilet Paper, which you only Liked six months ago because they were giving away a free roll to the first 1,000 people on their Fan page (you were unknowingly #500,726). There’s no way to separate the crap from the stuff that’s actually important in life; it all just gets vomited on the page and you’re supposed to pick through it to find the chunks (Wow, that was a pretty disgusting, but surprisingly apt metaphor).
- The website is not very user friendly. It’s difficult to adjust your privacy settings (especially when they keep changing them every other week), uploading pictures is a pain in the butt, and don’t even get me started on using Facebook Pages tied to your personal page.
Let’s start with the Cons in this case, because there are so few.
- It’s only two weeks old.
- Branded accounts (companies, websites, etc.) are not officially on G+ yet.
- No character limit to posts. Say goodbye to now-arbitrary 140 character limits. Say as much as you need to get the point across or fill in the details. Why say, “I really h8 when peeps be up in my grill jus cuz I <3 M&M Blizzards @dairyqueen instd of Bttrfngr” on Twitter? When you could say, “When it comes to +Dairy Queen’s frozen, Blizzard treats, I much prefer the +M&M variation over the +Butterfinger. I catch a lot of flack for carrying that opinion, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to change it.” on Google+? Brevity is the soul of wit, but text-speak is the soul of idiocy.
- You can follow anybody, just like on Twitter. If they have something they want the world to know, they’ll post it to the Public Stream and you can reply. Also just like Twitter, you do not have to follow everyone that follows you, nor do they have to follow you back, unlike Facebook. And if you’d rather they just not interact with you, Block them. They can still read what you say Publicly, but they won’t be able to reply, +1, Comment, or Share it. I have a feeling Google will eventually make these settings even more customizable, but that’s what we have for now.
- Security settings are simple – post to Public, post to Circles (all your Circles at once), post to certain Circles only, post to certain people only. You decide who sees what – it’s not the entire world like Twitter and it’s not your boss or your cousin three times removed like Facebook.
- Putting people/brands into subject-oriented Circles makes it easy for you to geek out on those topics and share information that only those people will have an interest in. I like movies, so I have a bunch of movie bloggers in a Circle I’ve called, appropriately enough, “Movies”. Once business accounts are added to G+, I’ll have movie sites like /Film, Redbox, CHUD, and more in this Circle, too. So whenever I want to read what’s going on in the world of cinema, I can just click on the Movies Circle in my Stream and not only read individual bloggers’ opinions (like on Twitter), but also essentially get an RSS feed from my favorite movie sites, replacing my need for Facebook, Twitter, and GoogleReader, all in one fell swoop. And I can post stuff that only movie buffs are going to care about to the people I have in those Circles since I know that’s something they’re interested in, too. That way my wonderful wife won’t have to start reading and then just ignore my geek out over whether or not Spike Lee should direct the Hollywood remake of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. Google+ is all about making your posts focused and relevant.
- It makes collaborating with others so easy. If you’re part of a special project at work, put your teammates in the “Project X” Circle and then you can communicate through posts to only that Circle (and the rest of the world won’t see about your super-secret Project X, either). No more back-and-forth emails that will only get confusing as the conversation goes on. Plus you have a timeline of ideas ready at your fingertips, because you can narrow down all of your posts to only those that were shared with that Circle. Start a Hangout, invite only those people, and you can video chat with each other across multiple offices or if colleagues are on the road. Why have a separate Skype account and software that you never use when you can just use your existing Google account?
- Separating the people in your social circle ensures you’ll never miss something that’s actually important. Only want to see what your Friends have been up to? Click the Friends button on the Stream and you won’t miss the post from Susan saying that she got a promotion at work. On Facebook, Susan’s good news could have been buried under posts from BoingBoing, CNN, Charmin, Bob’s Pizzeria, and those damn Farmville requests.
- Sharing is the same across the board. No more conflicting, confusing Retweet (RT) formats to confound everyone. You don’t have to have a PhD in Twitternomics to understand what the hell is going on.
- Adding pictures/videos is incredibly easy. You literally select them in Windows (and Macs too, I assume) and drag them to the Upload Images screen in G+. You can rename the album right there or add them to an existing album. If you have the G+ mobile app (right now it’s only for Android), any picture you take on your phone will be uploaded to a special, private album on Google+. Once you get home, you can sit down at your computer and share the images you like without having to use your phone to post them individually or worry about sending them to an email address so you can download them and then share them. Don’t want to Share an image from your phone? Just delete it from your special Google+ album and you’ll never see it again. This is so easy, it could make Tumblr obsolete too, especially once they come up with a Chrome extension that will allow you to easily Share content online and schedule your posts for the future.
- It can replace your LinkedIn profile. Find old co-workers and business contacts and add them to a Circle. Share updates to your resume, your latest projects/publications, etc. with that Circle, just like you do on LinkedIn. Make your resume a Public GoogleDoc and link to it directly from your G+ Profile. Best of all, by commenting on someone’s post that’s in that Circle, you might actually make a business connection, unlike on LinkedIn, which requires Invites and unnecessary formalities.
- Once they have it working (the infrastructure is in place and it works for websites, but not for G+ posts yet), +1’s will be a great way to bookmark things on the web. While in front of your computer, +1 a post on Mashable.com so you can come back to it later when you have more time. Then, while standing in line at the DMV, you can +1 a different post on Mashable’s Google+ page and read it later too, all from one convenient screen. Once this feature has been properly added to G+, you’ll be able to put all of your “Come back to it later” bookmarks in one place, rather than have to go check Twitter Favorites, Tumblr Likes, GoogleReader Stars, and Evernote/Delicious/Diigo bookmarks to see everything (I’d include Facebook, but there’s no good way to go to the pages you’ve Liked recently, so it’s not even worth it).
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of Google+ and I see a lot of potential in the service. Is it perfect? Definitely not. Will it ever bring down Facebook? I doubt it; at least not anytime soon. Mainly because of people like my dad who will happily post about the weather or that he’s disappointed the Cubs lost yesterday without worrying or caring who’s reading it. He doesn’t really surf the web much. He doesn’t use RSS feeds. He doesn’t need to collaborate with anyone for any super secret Project X, nor is he looking to make a career change at his age. For what he needs, Facebook is fine.
But for teenagers and 20-somethings, for whom social media is pretty much a way of life, I could see this being very useful once it has matured a little. Even for “old” social media power users like myself (I have about four or five Pages linked to my personal Facebook account, have been on Twitter since 2007, on Tumblr since 2009, FourSquare since 2010, and just recently started a Pinterest board), Google+ should be a service worth considering. It does everything the other social media services do, all in one place, and better in a lot of ways – and it’s only two weeks old. It may never get to 750 quadrillion users like Facebook, but for those people who need this type of social media segregation and integration, it could be an invaluable tool. Again, it’s not perfect, but, it’s only a newborn in social media age (and even in human age for that matter), so give it time to grow and learn from its mistakes; it’ll get there.
Finally, I hear a lot of people already giving up on G+ simply because “there’s nobody here”. The only reason that’s a disappointment for those people is because it’s a big name like Google. If it was some other little social media site – like Pinterest, which I’ll bet many of you have never even heard of – they wouldn’t have the same complaint. They see Google and they assume everybody they know is going to have an account. Google is rolling this out slowly so that they’ll get it right. Give it six months or a year and those same people complaining “no one’s here” will come back and say, “Oh, wow, this is so much better than Facebook”, even though nothing has changed in the core services or functionality of the site, it’s just that all of their friends are here now, so they’re willing to take the time to explore the wonders that are Google+.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Tell me yours. I’m sure you’ll all have an opinion on how wrong I am because, after all, this is the internet. But if you like what you see, add me to G+ (http://gplus.to/RobLammle) and we can share in our G+ lovin’.
(Oh, and even though I’d love for anyone and everyone to switch to G+, I don’t have time to invite all of you, so please don’t ask unless I already know you via Twitter, Facebook, or IRL. Thanks.)