When Google+ launched in late June, it instantly became the new cool place to be on the Web. The hip factor associated with Google's new social networking venture very much stemmed from the fact that it was initially by invitation only.
In the week before the Fourth of July and the days that followed, streams on reigning social media giants Facebook and Twitter were full of users offering invites and even more people asking for them.
There is a good chance Facebook and Twitter will end up making room at the top for a new online community. Here we are a mere six weeks later and Google+ reportedly has reached 25 million registered users. It took Facebook about three years to hit that mark.
What's compelling people to make the jump to Google+? There are many reasons, but a big one is that it integrates many of Twitter and Facebook's best privacy features while ignoring their flaws.
The most apparent privacy feature in Google+ is the ability to choose who in your network you want to share your thoughts with. Users are able to divide the people they follow into separate groups called "circles," and then select which circles they want to see their posts. Adding and removing people from circles is as easy as checking a box or dragging and dropping an individual's profile photo. On the day that the new network launched, Google Senior VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra wrote in the company blog, "The problem is that today's online services turn friendship into fast food, wrapping everyone in 'friend' paper, and sharing really suffers." Gundotra went on to call the all-or-nothing approach to sharing sloppy, scary, and insensitive.
Circles make it possible to keep your actual social life private from your boss and coworkers. But they also come in handy when it comes to sharing relevant content with the appropriate people. Maybe you don't want your co-workers to know what you do outside the office but you want to them to know what you're doing between 9 and 5? All you'd have to do is simply select the appropriate circle when posting to your stream.
Michael Pawluk, a media producer for the City and County of San Francisco, feels it is easier to target the right people on Google+ than it is on Facebook. "Even though Facebook has a huge following for content sharing, I think the concept of being able to share with select groups will lead to more day-to-day use," he said. "People will probably be more comfortable sharing when they know exactly who's going to see it."
Google+ also allows users to add people to multiple circles, and people in a user's network are unable to see which circles they are in. The ability to efficiently separate people into groups that actually represent the segments of your life is a privacy feature absent from other social networks.
Another more streamlined privacy feature in Google+ is the options available when editing the "About" tab. Users can update their information and select who it is visible to without navigating to any additional pages. This is a welcome change from Facebook, where editing the "Info" section and privacy settings are done on different areas of the site.
Still, the privacy options in Google+ have their shortcomings. The site has reportedly removed users who do not list their real names, angering those who go by pseudonyms. It can be argued that the real-name policy protects the safety of other users, but activists in authoritarian nations that utilize social networking to advance their causes have expressed a desire to protect their identities due to fears of government retribution. If Google+ stands firm on this issue, it may limit its popularity in the several countries currently experiencing social unrest.
Moreover, Google has a dubious track record when it comes to protecting the information of their users. Their last foray into social media, Google Buzz, quickly fell out of favor with users who were forced to share personal information integrated from their other Google accounts, including Gmail. It went as far as to instantly generate Buzz accounts for all Google users, forcing millions of people to join without their consent.
So far, Google has been diligent in avoiding its precursors' transgressions, and it is paying off, at least in terms of the number of users. Facebook is still Facebook - the most visited site on the Web - and though Google+ got a late start in the numbers race, it's making up ground at a rapid pace. It remains to be seen if Google+ will actual be able to take a sizable bite out of Facebook's social media share, but it does have some of the necessary pieces in place to do so. Google finally seems to be taking note that privacy really matters to people, especially on social networks, and they've certainly learned from Facebook's mistakes, as well as their own.