Is Google+ The New Facebook?

Google's past couple of product rollouts started with a bang and landed with a thud. Does anyone even know what Wave was supposed to accomplish, anyway? The search giant's newest rollout is generating a lot more positive Buzz (pun intended) than their last couple attempts, but it's still a bit mysterious for some. What is Google+? Let's find out.

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What Is Google+?

Over the past week, you've probably noticed a new Google product being discussed on blogs, news reports and even on your Facebook feed. As you may have gathered, Google Plus (or Google+, or the Google Plus Project, depending on who you ask) is a new social network. As of now, it's invite-only, and even some people who've received invites aren't able to join, because Google says it's currently 'at capacity.'

This shroud of secrecy is doubtless only adding fuel to the fire of curiosity surrounding the new network. But the exact functioning of Plus isn't a secret. Google has posted a demonstration of Plus' basic features, but this won't be enough to satiate everyone's curiosity. It's not yet clear when they'll open it up to more users, but it seems that now's as good a time as any, since so many people's curiosity has been peaked.

What it Has That Other Networks Don't

This is a bit of a complex question. Of course, the biggest social network in use right now is Facebook, and Plus offers a lot of features that Facebook doesn't. Plus has a few main features - Circles, Hangouts, Sparks, Instant Upload and Huddle. Sparks and Huddle are two particularly interesting features that take concepts that exist on Facebook (interests and the chat, events and wall features) and advance them a few steps further.

Sparks allows you to list interests, but instead of just being a way to connect to another Facebook feed, or broadcast your hobbies to others, this feature of Plus connects users to a news feed about their interests. So not only does this feature allow you to represent yourself, it also keeps you connected to what's relevant to your interests, meaning that your Internet leisure time could be better curated, with little effort from you.

But some of these features, like Circles, Instant Upload and Huddle, touch on aspects that other, much smaller social networks have tried to develop. One of the biggest complaints about Facebook is its lack of privacy. Circles is Plus' response to that issue, allowing you to create separate groups of people (family, friends, professional contacts, etc.) that you can discretely share information with. The Education Innovation Guide has already covered social networks that seek to give similar privacy to users, but those networks don't have the visibility of Google. It seems like Plus is going to be hard to beat.

So, Is Plus Really a Facebook Killer?

People are calling Plus a 'Facebook killer,' but whether this is accurate really remains to be seen. Google's going to need to roll their network out to everyone - and quickly, before the hype fizzles out. It could be argued that the current rollout strategy, that of limited access, mimics Facebook's initial 'students only' strategy, but that doesn't seem like an apt comparison. At the time of Facebook's inception, MySpace was the top network, and Facebook was a small company. Google has the means to offer this service to everyone, and it's not exactly clear why they're dragging their feet at this point.

Overall, Plus's ability to overtake Facebook on the top of the social network heap is dependent upon users. Plus has features that make it more of an intimate network than Facebook. This may be what some users want, but maybe not all. Facebook is a great way to get in touch with people from your past life, and to keep those people at arm's length.

What Does This Mean for Students?

Many people have Facebook contacts that they're vaguely interested in - old friends from high school or hometowns, friends of friends we see on rare occasion at parties, distant relatives, etc. These aren't people we necessarily want to let in on our day-to-day lives the way Plus allows. You might not mind the occasional wall post from that kid who sat next to you in tenth grade geometry, but that doesn't mean you want him trying to 'catch up with you' over video chat using Plus' Hangouts feature.

Conversely, if you're using Facebook or Plus as a job-networking tool, you may not want potential references seeing pictures from your most recent trip to Vegas. Students and job-seekers know by now that it's important to be careful about what they show on social networks; admissions offices and potential employers are looking at Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to get a better sense of who they're potentially admitting/hiring. But with all the social networking options available today, you could choose to have one account for your closest friends and one for your public-facing self. Many people now have multiple email accounts, using their main address for their daily correspondence and saving another for email lists and potential spammers; can it be long before we divide our virtual 'friends' in a similar manner? Google+ may not be a Facebook killer, but a Facebook antidote.

A new social network on the landscape will probably make things a bit more complicated for French TV announcers.

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