With the exception of underwear, Google seems to have become directly involved in every aspect of our lives. By introducing the Google+ social network a couple of weeks ago, they now aim to become a hub for our personal interaction online with our friends, as well as our social circles.
How’s Google+ different from Facebook and twitter?
One of Facebook’s strongest points is the home screen; a simple way of finding out what’s going on with your friends and loved ones. We might be taking it for granted, but the level of interaction on Facebook is quite phenomenal. You can share a photo or video, with a title, description, and your own comment. After that, people can ‘like’ it and comment. So it becomes a stream of interesting, relevant topics, each with its own interaction.
However, on Facebook, you have to ‘friend’ people to interact with them. This means that they will be able to access your photos, updates, etc. Of course you can have different levels of security, but a) it’s a bit too complicated for the average person not willing to waste time on settings, and b) people can tell if they’re on a limited profile and it becomes quite awkward (we all know that feeling).
On the other hand, there’s twitter. Here you can follow anyone and everyone, it has nothing to do with whether or not you know that person. It’s ideal because you customize your timeline to the extent that almost all of the tweets showing up are of interest, because you’ve chosen whom to follow. However, all you have are the tweets with links. You don’t have ‘likes’ that indicate how many people support the update (you have retweets, but it’s not that same), and you don’t have comments organized on that particular update (each with the possibility of ‘like’ing it as well).
That’s where Google+ comes in. You add people to your ‘circles’ – you can have as many as you want, and add the same person to more than one circle. You don’t need to be friends, so just choose whoever you’re interesting in following. When you open Google+, you get a home screen almost identical to that of Facebook: updates by people with images or videos, description, ‘plus’es (exactly like Facebook’s ‘like’). The big difference, however, is that you have the different ‘circles’ to choose from.
For example, you can create a circle called ‘Alexandria’ where you follow any of the people you know of (but don’t necessarily know personally) who will be updating about anything going on in Alex. You might think this is like a twitter list, well in a basic way it is, but if you have a list on twitter with Alexandrians, the tweets show up in reverse chronological order regardless of their content, and the interaction with the individual tweets is not visible.
With Google+, you can click on the Alexandria circle on the left to filter all of the updates on the home screen, and you’ll see the updates with the thumbnails (or the videos to be viewed directly), and the ‘plus’es as well as the comments. Moreover, it’s automatically sorted according to the updates with most interaction relevant to you.
This is obviously assuming that everyone you’re after is on Google+. With over 20 million users already, and the ease of joining and inviting, it’s hard to see why you would face a problem. Also the mobile app (I’ve installed it on my Android) is pretty slick.
So that covers the major differences in comparison with Facebook and twitter. The following are some other features that I don’t see as important, yet they’re worth mentioning:
- Messaging, which Google called ‘Huddle’ is an attempt to make it easier to send and receive messages with people on Google+. It is similar to Facebook messages, only there’s a separate mobile application to save taps and give you direct access to the messages. It’s meant to be lightweight, and you can send messages to circles. Time will tell how useful this feature really is.
- Video chat with multiple users is an impressive feature. Realistically, though, I doubt it’ll catch on
- Backup photos and content to be shared later, or remove your entire account – something Facebook doesn’t let you do
As a social network, it’s got a sleek interface and some neat features. But let’s get down to business, we all know that socializing is what you do when you’ve got spare time, but Egypt and the Arab world are busying revolting.
How could we use Google+ for political activism online?
While Facebook was always the tool for discussion with friends and acquaintances, twitter took political activism online to a whole new level. The main reasons include the ability to follow those who bring you relevant updates, the simplicity in tweeting and sharing images straight from your cell phone wherever you are, as well as constant updates when on the ground at the scene.
Now that Google+ combines a bit of both, if it picks up in Egypt and the Arab world, it could be huge.
Firstly, you can use the circles for political activists. For example, you could have a circle for ‘Journalists in Egypt’ where you follow about 30 of the journalists who are actively updating. You will then have the opportunity to ‘plus’ any of the updates, and engage in comments. Other circles could depend on geographical location, so that if things get ugly in Suez, and mainstream media ignores them as usual, you could keep on eye on that circle to see the most significant updates (with less interactive/relevant updates not getting in the way and being pushed towards the bottom).
You can also create circles on the fly depending on the ongoing events. For example, if there’s a sit-in at Madrid’s main square, Sol, going on for the week, you can drag a few of the Spanish activists who you know will spend the entire week at the demonstration. Any content shared will be visible – but only if you filter by that circle, which means you’ll only see it when you feel like it.
Another advantage could be Huddle, the messaging system. If you are coordinating with a groupwho are active and on the ground with you, you could add them to a circle and easily message them directly if needed. Any sort of political group should make use of that so that if any member faces trouble, he or she could let the entire group know immediately by getting their attention, but at the same time without having to broadcast it to the world.
As an organization, regardless of its nature, Google+ facilitates the collaboration on the different tools already offered by Google, such as Calendar, Docs, etc.
If Google+ picks up, as it probably will, it won’t replace Facebook or twitter. In my opinion, it’ll make Facebook focus on friends and loved ones (as oppose to have 1,000 ‘friends’ on your list who you couldn’t care less about). It’ll also affect twitter by making it specialize in broadcasting news and minute-by-minute updates, but not discussions and arguments.
It might just fit into that pocket and complement.
In conclusion, I think Google+ could actually reduce the disadvantages of Facebook and twitter, making all three exist side-by-side. If the web spreads to the majority, then I think all three social networks, but especially Google+ and twitter, will be huge.
Let’s not forget, however, that political activism online can only do so much – it all comes down to taking the streets. That’s where revolutions happen.