With Google+ unleashed upon the (limited) masses, the social media world has been instantly flooded with hype. While most seemed to fall into the "desperate begging plea for an invite" category, the overriding sentiment among those who got in has been a resounding, "Well…. Yeah….".
Prior to recent social networking failures (namely the Facebook-like 'Orkut' that only caught on in Brazil and the Twitter-like 'Buzz' feature within Gmail that nobody wanted), many had always assumed anything touched by Google to be the next big thing. Now, Attempt #3 is being met with a large dose of noncommittal positivity, nobody confident enough to predict either storming success or a quiet burial in an unmarked grave this side of Christmas.
The common opinion cites 'Plus' as Google's "Facebook Killer", but could it be much more than that? Could many others be watching complacently, oblivious to the little red dot flickering on their backs?
Google are bringing a few innovative features to the table, but it's 'Circles' that stands out as the main Google+ USP, and those 'Circles' could help them step on all sorts of toes.
If you don't already know the concept (and are somehow reading this blog post by accident), then 'Circles' are a way of grouping together different contacts and keeping the different aspects of your life as close or as separated as you want them to be.
Work colleagues don't see interactions with friends, friends don't see work activity, and Mum doesn't see you saying "Fuck". That's all great, and addresses a lot of the privacy issues people have with Facebook, but also makes for a more flexible platform that could be used in many different ways.
Let's start with "Following", one of the default Circles waiting for you in your new Google+ account. Twitter is obviously going to be next on the social networking radar and this Circle brings that "follow people who interest you but you don't actually know" format under the same umbrella as the Facebook-style "If I'm your friend then you're also my friend even though I always hated you" relationship.
But while it might be the most obvious secondary target for Google, it's probably the one with the least to worry about. Users love Twitter for it's simplicity, succinctness and immediacy, and Google doesn't look to be imposing any of the "restrictions" that make Twitter what it is.
Following is joined by Friends, Family and Acquaintances to complete the default Circles set, but it's the ones you make yourself (for now at least) where things could get interesting.
Maybe a Business circle for those outside my company I've done business with, people I've met at networking events, and so on. And there they shall sit, all nicely fenced off from the rest of my life. Perhaps I could join groups within that Circle on various business topics. Maybe I'll introduce and be introduced to new contacts, or list job vacancies I'm looking to fill. Meanwhile my LinkedIn account becomes engulfed in cobwebs.
Next, a Colleagues circle. I can join discussions about a current project, upload some related files and give feedback on some design mocks. Maybe there's some custom apps like a calendar for listing important project dates. Suddenly I realise I don't need any special project collaboration tools anymore and cancel my Basecamp subscription.
Ok, so I know that a focused and specific product will always be better for it's target audience than something that tries to be all things to all people, but it would be naive to think that Google aren't making their platform as flexible and extensible as possible so that either they or external developers can take it in new and interesting directions.
Obviously much of the above hinges on Google+ actually making noticeable progress with "Objective 1: Give Facebook a run for its money". They will achieve a lot by sympathetically integrating Google+ into their other services, subliminally coercing the weak into becoming Google+ users by default, but will that be enough?
In my own business we regularly see how even people using substandard competitors, simply don't want the hassle of moving no matter how much better the alternative is. We have to ensure what we offer is compelling enough to motivate those people, and it will be interesting to see how Google approach this task with 'Plus' as they attempt to lure people away from a service that, for many, IS the internet.
So far 'Plus' is the quiet barbecue with friends to Facebook's Victoria Tube station at rush hour. That could all change with the addition of apps and games - oh, and people - but if they can avoid the "noise" of Facebook then it could at least become Facebook for grown-ups.
If Google+ does go the way of it's predecessors, at least its potential targets can breath a sigh of relief and happily continue about their business. After all, it's not like Facebook will come and copy all the good stuff, is it?