I reluctantly decided to dive into Google+ and see what it's all about. I am jaded by Google Wave and Google Buzz, and I don't really have time to start building an entire social network from scratch again, but I have an obligation to at least be familiar enough with a service like this to offer some advice. So, here it is: stay away from Google+.
To be fair, I realize that this is an early demo, and that I should cut Google some slack. Sure, Google+ is rough around the edges, but that is what the demo period is for--to give Google an opportunity to get some feedback and work out the kinks. We can assume that the finished product will be more polished and functional, right? We can hope, but Wave and Buzz were both disappointments, so history is not on Google's side here.
The post announcing Google+ on the Official Google Blog takes issue with the concept of 'Friends' as used in Facebook parlance. I agree in principle that using the term 'Friend' to describe everyone from an old high school classmate, to a current co-worker, to an acquaintance you met last weekend, to your own mother is not the most intuitive of concepts.
But, Google goes on to explain the issues it believes are inherent in the Facebook system--it's 'sloppy' because sometimes we just want to connect with certain people or groups, and that it's 'scary' because every conversation is public, and it's 'insensitive' because we all define family or friends on our own terms, but Facebook robs of us this nuance. Gag.
Someone needs to take Google by the hand and give them a tour of the basic functionality of Facebook. Issues with the term 'Friends' aside, none of the things Google points out are true. Facebook lets you create separate lists or groups of contacts, and gives you the power to limit the audience for your posts and updates. It also allows you to name those lists and groups anything you want--like 'family', or 'work', or whatever you choose. Facebook is only sloppy, scary, and insensitive for users who don't know what they're doing in Facebook.
Don't get me wrong. Google+ tries to be more than Facebook. The +Sparks for sharing within a community of others with similar interests seems like a socially-curated Google News, and the +Hangouts adds a unique ability to start up an instant video chat (although with years of experience on Facebook I can say this is a feature I would probably never use).
I also like the integration of Twitter-like behavior by enabling you to follow other Google+ accounts even if they aren't in any of your +Circles. However, I have to vehemently disagree with my PCWorld peer Ilie Mitaru who claims that Google+ changes the social media game for business. The value of social networking from a business perspective is a function of the size of the audience. Just as running a commercial at halftime during the Super Bowl has more value than running a commercial at 2am on a local access cable channel, businesses will want to invest their marketing efforts and resources in the social network that has well over half a billion members to target.
When Google+ gets half a billion members, let me know. In the meantime, Google+ just feels like Google Buzz with a new coat of paint and a few new tricks up its sleeve. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. Google has a long way to go before we can even be sure Google+ will see the light of day, or still be around in 2012--never mind be any threat to Facebook.