So the newest virtual water-cooler internet topic of the week is the impending full release of Google+, a new social networking destination that Google hopes will be the centerpiece of their already-staggering mountain of applications. Some people think it’ll be like what FB was to MySpace or what MySpace was to Friendster. Some others think it’ll just be a “FB for nerds and/or Googlephiles.” And even some others think it’ll simply go the way of Google Wave and simply never catch on.
What outcome G+ does arrive at isn’t my concern; what is my concern is taking an accurate look at what a “social network” really is in the context of the internet, and what FB and G+ offer to that definition.
FB is obviously the well-established “big kid on the block.” A staggering number of accounts and features have all but utterly made a wasteland of any previous social site, and supplanting its dominance will be no easy task. It might even be impossible. And frankly, I feel it is.
But my initial impressions of G+ make me feel that it won’t have to supplant FB to be considered “successful;” quite the contrary, because G+ has a real chance to not be the “new social network” but rather a “different social network.” Please note that I didn’t say “better social network,” as “better” is certainly subjective to the user’s desires, and I won’t pretend to make people think they’re dumb for using FB.
From my view, FB is barely a true “social network.” Frankly, much (if not most) of the social networking that actually goes on in FB is activites that could easily be done via text message, email, or instant messaging systems. That’s the very use of sites like FB and its predecessors; to join together multiple mediums of communication into one destination.
However, many (if not most) FB users don’t truly use this system for actual “networking.” I’d wager that most activity on FB is directed at people that are known in real life. There’s no “networking” going on. “Networking” insinuates that there are people or groups of people joining together that weren’t previously joined. While I’m sure that occurs on FB, I don’t see it often in my friend’s activity. A simple gander at most people’s friendlists will show that a majority of “friends” are people who attended the same high school or college, or were present or former colleagues. People that are already known, already “networked.”
However, G+ takes a different approach. G+ almost seems like a waste of time if you aren’t interacting with “the community at large.” It’s less a copy of FB and more a marriage of FB’s tools with other web-based communities. It’s (potentially) like FB, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit (and probably some more I’m missing).
The important thing to recognize is that Twitter, Digg, and Reddit have their own communities made up relationships built on the internet. Relationships that likely wouldn’t exist without the internet, or more importantly the mediums that fostered them. This is where FB differs; there is no true “FB community.” It’s mostly a large amount of already-existing communities (RL friends/family/colleagues/etc) all simply using the same service. Discussions on FB (the word “discussions” being used with tongue-in-cheek) often only involve people that are already at least acquainted with one another. Many discussions on other sites are often with complete strangers (for better or worse). Discussions breed familiarity, familiarity breeds connections. Connections are what a network is. Breeding connections is networking. See my point?
G+ isn’t the new FB. Can you do what you do with FB on G+? Aside from all the games and applications, yes (unless Google plans on opening that Pandora’s Box on G+ as well). Do you have to do anything more than what you do on FB, on G+? No. But why would you want to?
G+ could potentially be more than FB. It’ll never replace it; so many people are so invested at this point, that it would take a serious FB faux pas for them to consider switching. Whether it’s the games, the applications, the familiarity with the medium, or simple laziness (which isn’t a bad thing; it’s the internet, it’s OK to be lazy), there are probably millions of users who will never leave FB until it dies.
But G+ will be there, offering not just FB-familiar features, but potentially so much more. If my guesstimates about FB activity are anywhere close to truth, it won’t be redefining “the social network.” It’ll actually be defining it.