There’s an adage that the most popular posts on Google+ are either about Google+ or how it compares to Facebook. We were indifferent to the web titan’s social networking platform when it launched in July and in the months since then, there’s been nothing to change my mind. It seems to have become a shantytown for people to abandon Facebook, and ultimately their friends, for something different. With today’s unveiling of Timeline, the next big leap in how your profile there will look and function, the irrational cries against it have resurfaced while Google+, still a pale imitation of an older version of the service, looks appropriately destined for the dustbin of internet history.
So why does Google+ have so much traction for being such an average service? What’s really keeping it in the public’s imagination when their previous efforts at social (Orkut, Buzz) have all failed to take off?
It’s Google and not Facebook. If you open a web browser and go to Google.com to search for something, you’re in a very popular crowd of hundreds of millions of users. Unfortunately, while Facebook has worked hard to make your profile a personal extension of you, Google+ is merely an assortment of interesting, but proven features. Their largest contribution to the medium has been the addition of ‘circles’, which are smart lists that allow you to cater your content to others, in effect preventing you from posting pics of ‘that party last night’ with your parents’. Unfortunately, the addition of a Google+ ad to every single page view has not turned the service into much more than an elaborate Twitter with no one on it.
People don’t want to share all that info. Among today’s big announcements were the ‘automatic updates’ to their Open Graph. If you’re listening to music, much like how your AIM or Windows Live Messengers work, you’ll be able to share your music in real-time and other people will be able to listen with you. It’s taking an old concept and marrying it to the world’s largest social network and comparing your taste with friends, something that Zune tried and well… but it doesn’t stop at music, though. Soon “Read” buttons will appear that, purportedly, let you automatically let your friends know when you’re checking out particular sites after selecting it.
People don’t want to read all that info. Now, not all of your data is going to appear to your friends because the sheer amount would be crushing, but it will appear in the new Ticker that updates in real-time. It’s stuff like this that Zuckerberg wanted to inspire conversations and relationships between people, to learn something about people without having to implicitly ask them on a moment to moment basis. Detractors don’t seem to understand that all of this stuff is opt-in, something that Facebook critics have been clamoring for since the clashes over privacy settings a few years ago (leading to the creation of the open-source Diaspora network, which has failed to gain any steam after Facebook changed their policies).
That’s right, people: you don’t have to share a thing. You can also, via Subscription settings, choose not to see what most anyone else shares either. There’s nothing wrong with either, but Facebook’s point is that the service becomes that much more compelling the more you share. So where does this leave Google+ after all is said and done? Well, really just an old, impersonal version of Facebook with none of your friends on it.