I have had a Facebook account for several years now, coming a little later to that party that some folks, especially my kids and their own friends. While I created a Facebook account more out of curiosity in the beginning and to hopefully locate a few old friends that I had lost track of my high school and college years, I found that I soon came to really enjoy reconnecting with so many people that I have known over the decades. I was surprised at some that became “friends” and even more surprised that some that chose to not be my “friend” online. Thankfully, I don’t base my self-esteem on such things, and I have certainly had fun and fellowship with the friends that I have connected (or reconnected) with there. My contacts are either a friend to me there or not. I actually turned down a few folks on my own, too, basically because I had no clue who they were. I wanted to only interact on my Facebook account with people I knew personally.
My son sent me an invitation to join Google+ a couple of weeks ago, and my daughter and her husband had already joined there as well. Oddly enough, my son never really wanted to be a friend on Facebook, so I found this development a little amusing. I created my account and set out to explore the basics of what Google+ had to offer. It is a very basic networking site as compared to Facebook, and that is not an issue with me. I just like to post updates and photos and see updates and photos from my Facebook friends. At this time, there are also no ads at G+, which I’m sure will change over time. I doubt that Google intends for this to be a charitable effort, and I don’t have any issue with that either.
The biggest difference that I am seeing right now between the two social sites is the “Circles” offered in Google+, and I think this feature will determine who will switch to G+ and who will mostly stick with Facebook. Here is how I see things “shaking out” in the future for these two.
Google+: Right now, G+ is very easy to use. The look of the page is very, very basic… honestly quite boring to me even compared to Facebook’s own blandness. There is just too much empty white space. The biggest new feature there, though, is the ability to classify people into circles, even multiple overlapping circles. This solves the issue of narrowing down the audience for the user’s posts and pictures, and it makes it possible to “friend” someone but never actually have to interact with them. Of course, this is all possible in Facebook, but the mechanism to get this result is more complex… more of an “exclusion” process than an “inclusion” process as I understand it. After posting a test post in G+ to see what it would look like, I soon discovered that there is no way at this time to edit or delete the post if I wanted to do so. I think that is quite lame, to be honest, especially on the deletion front. G+ also has a feature called “Hangouts” that enables small groups of friends to interact together… I believe up to ten people at one time. I just don’t have a need for this feature in my own life. I still interact with the people in my life on a more personal level, but again, for friends or relatives scattered in different areas, this might be a nice little feature, provided everyone actually joins G+. One thing that may actually impact the level of success for G+ is how quickly Google will open their doors for anyone to join that would like to do so. Their policy of limiting membership during this beta offering may actually keep G+ from becoming the next big thing. Potential users may ultimately just lose interest in not being able to join their friends for the opening “fun,” especially if they are limited in joining for months and months to come.
Facebook: In my opinion, Facebook was based on getting more and more people to interact with each other online, and in my opinion, it strives to have all of the user’s friends included in the discussion by default, as opposed to a more selective process with the Circles in G+. For someone like me, this is just fine. If I don’t want to interact with someone, I just don’t add them as a friend on Facebook. I don’t see any value in “friending” someone there, only to then exclude them for most or all of my posts. My posts are quite tame, too. I don’t mind the average friend hearing all about my kids, my spoiled dogs, things that I find funny or informative or something that inspired me that day. But I can certainly see where someone that has more private or opinionated things that they would like to share online would appreciative the more restricted options that G+ offers. Even after I have “friended” someone at Facebook, if I don’t want to continue reading their constant stream of daily posts, I can easily just remove them from my feed without “de-friending” them. That leaves me the option of still being able to visit their page from time to time to check in on them, too. Right now, I’m not sure if such a feature exists in G+ – to hide posts from someone, even when they have opted to include me in their circle of posts.
The only other issue that I think should be considered when making a decision on which site to use is the issue of privacy and ownership of original material. I cannot directly attest to this, but I have heard that G+ may have some policies that I would not necessarily approve of, especially on the possible ownership and/or use of photos. For that reason, I will refrain from posting anything right now on my new G+ account. I guess I will just check in occasionally to read the few posts that people opt to share with me there, mainly my son at this time. To be honest, there is just no reason for me to leave Facebook either. Right now, I am satisfied with my rights on Facebook because they claim no ownership rights to my photos, but I do try to stay current on any policy changes that they try to implement, too. That is a good idea when using any online sharing site of any kind. I’ve spent several years reconnecting with friends there, and I really just have no interest or desire now to try something new, especially since a jump to G+ likely means the user wants to start limiting who they share with anyway. That’s just no fun! This wheel isn’t broken for me, so there is no need for a fix.
Of course, there is always the option of just picking up the telephone, too. Wish my grown kids could find their way to do that more often. That will have to be the subject of another post sometime, but I just hope that we as a society are not starting to lose our way in communicating in more direct ways.