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A View from Paul Boutin

How to Make Google+ Friends with Facebook and Twitter

A browser plug-in shows how easily the “big three” social networks could coexist.

  • July 26, 2011

Credit: Technology Review

In just a couple of weeks, Google’s new social network, Google+, has drawn an estimated 20 million users. For some, it offers the chance to “do a reset” on Facebook by starting over without the legions of unwanted friends they’ve acquired on Facebook. For others, joining means adding yet another major social site to monitor—besides Facebook and Twitter.

A browser add-on for Google Chrome, and soon for Firefox, offers a way to combine Google+, Facebook, and Twitter posts into users’ Google+ stream of status updates. Start Google+, created by programmer Zane Claes (who currently lives in the south of France), uses Facebook and Twitter APIs to let Google+ users incorporate updates from those networks, and to post back to those networks via Google+ as well. Start Google+ also adds a few as-yet missing features to Google+, such as a box in the upper right of the Google+ interface that tell you when you have a new Gmail message.

Installing the add-on takes only a few seconds. A user then only has to click the Facebook and Twitter icons it adds atop Google+ to login using those services. Once you’ve done that, Facebook and Twitter posts appear on your Google+ Stream page, marked by a Facebook or Twitter icon to differentiate them from Google+ posts. Each item includes a link to reply or retweet on Twitter, or to comment on Facebook (there’s no Facebook Like button yet.)

There’s just one downside to the current version of Start G+: It incorporates your unfiltered main feeds from Twitter and Facebook; you can’t invoke Facebook’s Top News filter, or select specific Twitter lists of users that you’ve created. So you may find your Google+ page overrun by the very people you’d come to Google+ hoping to escape. Claes says that he is working on filtering options next to address this.

So far, more than 100,000 Google+ users have installed the add-on, of whom Claes says 60 percent are actively using it. The add-on hasn’t been blocked by Google, Facebook, or Twitter yet. Although Facebook and Twitter declined to respond to requests for comment, both companies already allow third-party apps to incorporate status updates into their feeds. (Twitter declined to comment on whether the company will add Google+ support to its popular Tweetdeck app, which would connect its large existing user base to Google+.)

It seems unlikely that Google+ will completely supplant Facebook or Twitter as the social network of choice, any more than Twitter and Facebook have undermined each other’s popularity. Instead, these big three social networks may need to play nice with each other in order to maintain their audience reach, and more mashups like Start Google+ will make it less of an aggravation.

But until Claes gives me a way to filter my Facebook and Twitter feeds inside Google+, looking at them reminds me why I long ago stopped reading those streams. So many people with so little to say, but they’re saying it anyway.

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