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Google+: So Close, Yet So Far


For those who don’t pay attention to the social networking space, the big news of late was the release of yet another social networking service from Google. First there was Orkut (popular largely in Brazil, India, and Estonia), then the ambitious Google Wave (now discontinued; see “(Google) Wave Goodbye,” 4 August 2010), and most recently the Twitter-competitor Google Buzz (still active, but little used; see “What’s the Google Buzz? Tell Me What’s A-Happening,” 14 February 2010).

And now we have Google+, which clearly builds on the lesson that Google learned with the Wave and Buzz failures, and attempts to move the concept of social networking forward. At its base, Google+ is a bit like Facebook; you can post something and people who follow you can read and comment on it in a slick Web-based interface. You can also share photos and view photos from those you’re following.

The core problem is asymmetric following: on Facebook, if someone wants to read what you post, they have to friend you, and you have to accept them as a friend, which means you see what they post as well. That’s symmetric following. Part of Twitter’s success is the way it lets you follow people who don’t have to follow you back – it lets you be interested in what someone like Tim O’Reilly has to say without Tim needing to acknowledge or connect with any of the TKTK people who want to follow him.

Nonetheless, there’s still a problem, which is that you likely follow people who exist in different real-world groups, and you may wish to segregate their conversations from each other. As a simple example, I have friends on Facebook who are family, runners, people from high school, acquaintances from the computer industry, and so on. On Twitter, I have lists for news sources and people I actually know, as opposed to people I think might be interesting but whom I haven’t met. In both Twitter and Facebook, I can read just posts from those groups. (In the interests of disclosure, I seldom read anything not addressed directly to me on Facebook, so don’t assume I’ll see anything there.)

Good, right? It’s a start, but only a start. The reason is that people post about all sorts of topics, which pollutes the list – just because someone is in my Runners list doesn’t mean they post only about running topics.

Larry Page, CEO of Google. “I’m super excited about the amazing response to Google+ which lets you share just like in real life.”

“In real life, we have walls and windows and I can speak to you knowing who’s in the room, but in the online world, you get to a ‘Share’ box and you share with the whole world,” said Bradley Horowitz, a vice president of product management at Google who is leading the company’s social efforts with Vic Gundotra, a senior vice president of engineering. NY TImes

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