I was fortunate enough to gain an invitation to join the “limited field trial” of Google+ back on June 29, the night invitations were first released into the wild. Shortly after that initial release, Google closed invitations for a while to allow the company’s servers adjust to the rapid growth of the network and to give the first wave of adopters a chance to test the limits of the network.
Reportedly Google+ will become open to the public with no invitation required on or around July 31. In the meantime, invitations have opened up again and the new social network is gaining members at an impressive clip. Within its first two weeks, the site welcomed 10 million new members. If someone keeps any sort of records, it may well qualify as the fastest social network to reach that number.
I have been sending out invitations to friends and business colleagues. The reaction from these people has been somewhat mixed. I want to blog this week about some of the features to be found inside Google+ and discuss some of the possible business uses of this new network.
But first, let’s address some more basic questions. Why should you care about a new social network? Is it worth your time to become an early adopter? Does Plus actually add anything to my social media experience?
As a business leader (or aspiring business leader), I think you owe it yourself to become familiar with as many communications tools as possible. In the long run, not every tool will be suitable for your needs, but it certainly helps to know what’s available for you to use as circumstances arise.
So, yes, I think you owe it to yourself to at least explore this new network and become familiar with its potential. I truly believe it’s too early to declare the long-term success or imminent death of Google+. The service is quite literally only a few weeks old after all and important features—such as business profiles and brand presence capability will be making their test phase debut in the next week or so. Thus, we haven’t yet even seen all of the features that Google+ plans to offer at this time.
I think it’s important to remember that Google+ is in the “beta” testing or “field trial” (as the Googlers like to call it) phase. It does have to bear the burden of being compared to a fully-formed 750 million member Facebook behemoth, but do remember that Facebook essentially spent three years in “field trial” as it started with limited availability to college students, then high school students, before opening the doors to the public at large in 2006.
The arrival of Google+ also represents the addition of some important new features in how users will interact with each other and with the owners of the network. I’ll detail some of these features in later posts this week (and there are new tutorials springing up all the time on the Internet). But, I want to address very quickly some key concepts that Google+ represents and why I think it does add something to your social media experience.
First, is better control of how content is shared within your personal network. Google+’s Circles feature recognizes that we don’t necessarily wish to share the same links, status updates, location check-ins, and commentary with our entire network. Circles allows the user to segment their audience so that information you may wish to share with your personal friends does not also have to be shared with your co-workers, your great-aunt Mabel, and your customers. Circles is a direct attempt to address the split-personality problem we all face online when trying to decide on a balance between personal and work-related content. It is a great first evolution and I am sure there will be revisions and fine-tuning yet to come, but I believe Google+ is in the vanguard here amongst all other public networks.
The second thing Google+ adds to social media is a serious approach to how we claim ownership of our content. When you quit Twitter, you can’t take your Tweets or your contacts with you. In fact, I can’t even see my first tweets anymore. Quitting Facebook is famously difficult to do. Try quitting Facebook and taking with you a collection of the data you’ve accumulated over time, including your contact list, your photos, a list of the pages you “Liked” along the way, etc. It’s impossible to do.
The Google+ debut and its many features have overlooked a provocative new feature created by a Google team calling themselves the Data Liberation Front. I’ll be talking about this in detail later this week, but the DLF and its “Takeout” feature provides something Facebook users have been demanding for some time: the ability to export their personal data at any time they wish. Takeout is a bold and overlooked statement in the social media wars as Google has essentially said, “We want to make it easy for you to leave us at anytime.”
Third, and not to be overlooked at all, is what Google+ represents from a potential business standpoint especially in the possibility of integration with search engine results. We don’t yet know what Google+’s business face will look like, but I think it is safe to say that the concept of social-powered search will play a significant role in helping businesses find and connect to customers. While Facebook is naturally expert at how consumers use Facebook, Google is expert at how consumers use the Internet. I think that’s a distinction worth noting.
Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the distracting conversations of whether Google+ is a Facebook killer or not. These dialogues assume there can only be one winner and one loser. We already live in a life of multiple social networks. Every other communications medium we use has eventually split into specialized segments.
It is possible to imagine a future in which Google+ and Facebook exist alongside each other. That fact may seem as difficult to imagine today as the concept of two television networks existing in 1947 to inhabitants of that era. Yet, NBC decided to take on the older DuMont Network, and soon CBS and ABC joined the party, too. So, I don’t think it’s out of bounds to imagine a world with more than one major social network.
So, yes, I encourage you to be curious about new social media platforms. Learn about the ones that seem best suited to match your interests (personal and professional) and actively use them. I have 75 channels on my cable television subscription service. I don’t try to watch them all, but I do make a point to experiment and watch new shows to decide if they are right for me.
I invite you to visit the blog with me this week as take a look at some of the program offerings you can expect to find on social media’s newest channel.