There is excitement and debate about Google+ raging through Silicon Valley. Just a few weeks ago, there was the assumption that Google never would and never could get social right. Then Google shipped Google+. An extremely sharp guy, Carl Sjogreen, now on point for the Facebook "platform," recently posted "bring it Google." This post may turn out to be reminiscent of Apple welcoming IBM to the fray in 1980. While Apple did win in the end, it is also true, as a colleague of Carl's observed, that it took them almost 30 years. Hubris is a dangerous thing. At a lunch with Mark Zuckerberg a few years ago, Mark explained to me that his vision behind Facebook was to move the real-world relationships people have onto the web and yet, when it comes to real-world social relationships about groups of people, Google+ may have it more right than Facebook. To understand this, let's discuss what Google+ is.
Essentially Google+ is a social network that enables you to chat online, multi-user video-chat (which is cool all by itself), post or share photos either with specific groups of people you know or publicly (which is like blogging). It also has truly excellent Android (e.g. smart-phone) integration. The groups of people you know are called "circles" and have names you get to define, and the important idea is that the circles are asymmetric, meaning that you may have someone in your "Best Friends" circle but they may have you in their "Need to be Polite to" circle. In short, the circle's name reflects how you view them, but not necessarily how they view you. This is the real world. In the real world, perceived relationships are asymmetric. Someone you view as a close friend may turn out to be your spouse's friend (you find out during divorce) or view you as a business friend (you find out when you switch jobs/companies) or something completely different. Thus your circle's names reflect how you view the people you know and needless to say, you don't publicize this. You know in Google+ that someone has you in a circle but not what it is named. This model of circles means, for example, that you can post or share photos with the audience you intend which can and will vary a lot depending on the subject. My wife, for example, has many photos she'd like to share with family and "very close friends," but no one else.
Does Google+ threaten Facebook? There is a lot of talk going on right now about what's wrong with Google+. A couple of people are claiming that something is wrong with Google+, namely Arik Beremzon and Yishang Wong. Frankly both their arguments seem problematic to me. Arik argues Google+'s circles are too complicated. Maybe, but it is only as complicated as you want it to be and not intrinsically more complicated than albums in iPhoto or playlists in iTunes, both of which my non-technical friends have mastered. Yishang argues that it doesn't get the privacy norms implicit in social interactions and violates them with its handling of public posts. This shows a lack of understanding of what it means to be public. Public is essentially blogs with comments enabled. It isn't like private conversations between friends. The beauty of Google+ is that you can have both. And, frankly, just being able to separate the conversations you want to have with family, close friends, and business friends is wonderful and isn't easy in Facebook. Personally I'm already using Google+ far more than Facebook. Finally, Google also has a key advantage over Facebook for those of us who use Google for our schedules and our email and, in some cases including mine, our documents. When you are using search (and are logged in) or any of these applications, you see prominently displayed an option under your name/photo on the top right to open Google+ and next to it there is a clear count visible in bold red if there are any new notifications to Google+. It is addictive. To see it go red is to click on it and to click on it is to enter the world of Google+. They suck you in.
At the very least Google+ is going to keep Facebook honest and force it to improve. As always, competition is good.