After roughly a week in its introductory trial phase, the first serious competitor to the social networking behemoth Facebook has received generally positive reviews, and raised some interesting possibilities.
Nidhi Subbaraman at MSNBC’s Technolog was one of the limited number of people invited to try Google’s new social networking site, Google+. Subbaraman went into the beta with a clear goal of testing the site’s commitment to privacy. Google+ has sold itself as a more secure and controllable alternative to Facebook, where privacy settings are mostly confined to a confusing array of choices deep within the options page.
Comparatively, Subbaraman notes that privacy was included in Google+ from the ground up and takes a central role at all times, revolving largely around the concept of Circles, which divvy up friends into groups. Limiting Google searches on your name, controlling shared information and deleting account data are all easy to understand on the site, offering a broad array of privacy tools.
Nevertheless, Subbaraman notes that all of these tools require people to actively pay attention and use them, while standard settings allow a high degree of information sharing that rivals Facebook.
The launch of Google+ has not gone without its stumbling blocks either, according to The Financial Times, which was the first to report a major privacy issue. The Times found that the resharing feature that mimics Twitter’s retweet quickly and easily allows users to share information beyond the initial group. This type of sharing can be prevented through a dropdown options menu on the post, but the standard for every post is open.
The Times reports that Google has acknowledged the flaw and hopes to fix any issues such as this with its closed beta.
Despite these obvious issues, Google+ offers a different set of tools that could open social networking to new groups. GigaOm suggests the service might find use in the business world as a means of coordinating, updating and contacting coworkers, clients and others. Unlike Facebook, Google+ is streamlined enough to be able to share information efficiently with those who need it and, unlike some work-oriented networking services, allows for easy integration of anyone inside or outside a company or organization.
Some other tools within Google+ offer even further potential for the service, especially the new video chat feature, Hangouts. This program allows a user to create a video chat room and invite others without needing an immediate answer. The original user can run the chat in the background while waiting for people to show up, allowing for relatively spontaneous conversations.