Google launched its Facebook competitor, Google+, just over a week ago now. Even though sign-ups have so far been limited to a fraction of Facebook’s 750 million users, it already appears that, for a lot of people, Google+ will become the other social network they need to use. Why? Because a significant fraction of their friends will force them to.
It’s not just that Google+ has 10-person video hangouts, or that Google+ is magically free of privacy worries. It’s that Google has created the opportunity for Facebook-weary people to perform what one called “a reset on Facebook,” allowing them to escape from Facebook members they’ve friended over the years but don’t really want to interact with—and can’t quite bring themselves to defriend.
The killer feature of Google+ is that, unlike Facebook, LinkedIn, or most other social networks, there’s no such thing as a friend request. Users can create groups of friends, called Circles in Google+ terminology. These circles can include both other Google+ users and nonusers who receive status updates via e-mail rather than via the site. As a Google+ user, you can share your status updates and favorite links with those in one or more of these easily created circles, or with everyone. And you can see what other users have shared with you, or with everyone, in a Facebook-like feed that runs down the middle of the page.
When a person adds you to a circle you get a notification. If you don’t add that person to your own circles they will know because they won’t get a notification themselves. On Facebook you can cause offence by not confirming a friend request; on Google+ you can do it by not reciprocally adding someone to your circles. But you won’t have an explicit friend request to snub, nor will you create a public list of friends whom you didn’t really want to be seen with.
So you’ll never be put in the awkward situation of receiving a friend request from someone you don’t really want to be Google+ friends with. Nor will you have to face the awkward decision of whether or not to defriend a former confidant with whom you’ve fallen out. Just remove them from your circles, which are never revealed to other users. Other than that, Google+ looks and behaves a lot like Facebook.
Sure, Facebook has ways to filter, block, and organize other members so you don’t have to share every update with, say, your parents. But on Google+, your parents can’t send you a friend request, and the Circles system makes it one-click easy to share a tasteless video clip or a story of public drunkenness with your college friends without having to customize the update first. There’s no way yet to share a post with everyone in your Best Buddies circle except those who are also in your Coworkers circle, but it would be easy to add to the system before Google takes Google+ out of its limited-membership trial period.