Google+

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Google+ (commonly referred to as "Google Plus") is a a new, major social networking site operated by Google Inc. created to challenge the field which several SNSs were already dominating, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, as the bigger names (although at this point, MySpace began its falling out as one of the big names in social circles).

Although it was entering the field as a potential David against the fight of the big Goliaths, it was quite obvious that Google has the power to challenge, even as a new-comer in the social networking circles, because of its actual size and dominance in the internet space.

Beginning

Initially, Google+ had a 'testing-phase', where people were allowed to join only by invitation, and this period showed Google Inc. that demand for invites was greater than what they could handle and each member receuved 150 invitations to give out in turn.[1] Whether it was also considered a great marketing technique (needing an invitation to join a place, whether online or in real life has always been a status of its own, more competitiveness meant more challenge, and people loved being part of something big, but exclusive), the invitation to be part of Google+ might have been the only marketing campaign they really needed to continue with this project. People kept questioning whether Google+ meant a challenger to the biggest player in the game - Facebook[2], or was supposed to add up as another service of Google (thus, the '+' as some presumed). When representatives of Google+ were approached regarding this issue, the answer was that Google+ was bringing people's social relationships closer to real-life than other SNSs.[3]

Analysis

Branding

As I mentioned previously, Google+ had a pre-made advantage on the market because it was a product of Google Inc. the biggest internet-related multinational corporation in the World, holding place number 1 of the most-visited sites in the world (as shown on Alexa).[4] The invitations and the already secure producer vouching behind its product was enough for the public to board the ship of a new social networking site. Skepticism was still there from many, but Google+ currently boasts a number of 359 million users and a spot right behind Facebook on the SNS popularity scale.[5] It is worth mentioning that the brand behind the product was not necessarily the case for its success, since it was Google's fourth attempt in the social networking space, with two of the projects currently retired (Google Buzz and Google Friend Connect), and the third one is left to be operated in Brazil with its predominant users being from Brazil and India (Orkut).[6]

Features

One of the advantages Google was boasting about its product and making it as close to real-life connections as possible was its main option: "Google Circles". Google Circles provided an option for its users to classify the people that they would 'put' in said Circles as either Friends, Family, Acquaintances, or any other group you would like to create. This gave a selective immediacy to the user, who could choose the privacy setting based on the groups he had on Google+, so interactivity, reach and identity were three concepts out of Baym's seven concepts which the user could potentially control in his favor. "Stream" acts as the commonplace for users and those in their circles, providing immediate reach to the people in all their circles (or specific ones, depending on the privacy choice and setting). One of the features Google+ provides for its users which is one of the more popular reason to keep it using is its "Hangouts" where people can video chat with other people with a maximum number of 10 people per video chat. These, and many more features, such as "Games", "Sparks" and "Messenger" act as a creative way to bring an online community closer to each other, that the only factor of defining it officially as a social community is the lack of temporal combined with physical presence.[7]

An interesting factor regarding Google+, from a personal opinion, is the complexity of the way these features are encompassed together. Google's search engine - something internet-illiterate people might consider The Internet itself, won over its audience because of its overly simplistic design (the logo and search bar in the middle), and although Google Inc. tried to make Google+ seem a winner when it came to simplicity, it showed up as a bunch of features thrown together without even looking organized. This might have lead to a general opinion that Google+ is complex, so users favored using the already familiar space of Facebook as one of their main ways to interact with others. Google+ suddenly became too complicated for ordinary users and a haven for those who were at a technological advantage. That was thought to be the "audience" limit by some, which later showed to be a superficial assessment and people actually started using Google+ on a daily basis.

Controversies

Google+ showed some extreme outreach to become a SNS that would be defined as "as close to real-life as possible". In the beginning, and in the present but in a less strict way, Google+ made it mandatory for people to use their real names and began deleting private profiles, since one of its main goals was to challenge Facebook and the rest so that they actually brought people, not their online identities, together. [8][9] This though, seemed to battle one of the main problematic characteristics of SNSs - the issue of user identity. On many websites, identity could be reformed, created, and deleted, and one could start over again. By users being 'forced' to use their real name, provide a trusting social profile to be found by friends, and the possibility of adding pictures, the Google+ seemed like an online album or scrapbook of our own life. This intrigued some critiques, but later on turned to less severe actions and surveillance considering these issues, but it was certain that Google+ was trying to assert dominance in the social networking space as a site which stands by its word, and does something that has not been done by the rest of the leading SNSs. A small fact that might be overlooked here is that the reason behind other SNSs not using such measures is that that would normally drive users away from using the SNS in question, and holding onto users and using the numbers of their group is still one of the most important factor about social networking sites.

References