While it’s still very early in the process for Google+, already I’m seeing things they are doing that I wish Facebook did. The primary difference for me is the Circles component of Google+. From the description:
Google+ Circles helps you organize everyone according to your real-life social connections–say, ‘family,’ ‘work friends,’ ‘music buddies,’ and ‘alumni’. Then, you can share relevant content with the right people, and follow content posted by people you find interesting.
Part of the problem I have with Facebook is how it treats all my “friends” as the same. I’m either friends with you or I’m not according to Facebook and frankly, that’s not a very subtle distinction when it comes to how I want to interact with people online. This causes me to be very cautious with accepting requests on Facebook. Many times, I either have to choose to ignore someone I’m not that interested in or accept their request and then quietly click the X button when it turns out I’m just not that interested in what they have to say. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to accept all requests. I’d just like to have some control over what I read and share beyond the concept of “Everyone is my friend” which they clearly aren’t.
Google+ fixes this with Circles, the concept being that your social circle is actually made up of lots of little circles, some of which overlap, supersede or ignore completely other circles. This is a more accurate portrayal of what goes on in the real world. This may of course be a solution dreamed up by engineering nerds and introverts looking for a problem to solve. I know that many of the people I’ve run into on Facebook have so many friends, they can’t possibly use FB in any meaningful way to keep up with people unless they spend entirely too much time there. Wait, nevermind.
Still, when someone has 1000 friends on Facebook, it’s off putting in a variety of ways to me. For one, chances are they use Facebook as more of a giant online Rolodex, a place where anyone and everyone they have ever encountered can be grouped in one place for easy tracking. That’s fine except that in order for me to be in your Rolodex, you have to be in mine as well unless I specifically do something to pretend like you aren’t there. Not particularly optimal. Not to mention, if you have 1000 friends on Facebook, the likelihood that you actually pay attention in any meaningful way to what I put on Facebook is rapidly approaching zero and since this is all about me, why would I want that?
With Google+ Circles, a lot of those issues vanish. If I accept a request from someone with 1000 friends, I can put them in my “Extroverts are insane” Circle, choose to share almost nothing with them and view almost nothing and be done with it. I’m in their Rolodex, they are in mine, but that’s the limit of it and no one has to get their feelings hurt. They don’t have to listen to me say how much Facebook sucks (not that they were paying any attention anyway) and I don’t have to listen to whatever it is they say on FB. Everyone’s a winner.
The ability to put people in loosely organized groups is a key component of evolutionary biology. It’s important that we are able to know who we can count on, who to share information about drunken orgies with, etc. The evolution of social media from the beginnings in AOL chat rooms to Google+ Circles is an evolution towards better representation online of the relationships we actually have in daily life. I don’t know what the long term chances are for this latest project of Google’s but I personally am rooting for their success.