In the online social world, the current buzz is the launch of Google+, by Google of course. Given the popularity of Facebook, and twitter, it is not difficult to see that Google+ has to have something significantly unique about its offering to be a real challenge to the main social networks. So, first, a little background to what I think Google+ is. Well, it is a social network with the characteristics of Facebook i.e. you can add friends, photos etc. In addition, it has the characteristics of twitter – you can post messages, only longer than 160 characters, and you can follow ( and be followed by) people.
Facebook has faced criticisms with regards to privacy issues. But how is Google+ attempting to address that? Well, users can put friends in ‘circles’. These circles are more of partitions rather access groups. Default circles include ‘family’, ‘acquaintances’, and ‘friends’. You can share posts, pictures etc with only selected circles.
From my personal experience in the last few days that I have played with Google+, it seems straight forward enough to drag and drop friends into different circles and create new circles if necessary. If it works according to how I understand it is supposed to work, then I think many of the facebook privacy issues will be addressed. This, of course, is ignoring that Google+ is integrated with Gmail and Google search uses Gmail and Google+ data for its own competitive advantage.
What doesn’t surprise me, though, is that in the 26 days that Google+ has been operational the majority of the 18+ million users who have adopted (well, mostly likely just trying it out) it are tech users. Of course there may be a number of reasons for this but in my view, I think that tech users understand issues around privacy and have some ideas of how they can achieve privacy in their various social interactions (please note how I loosely use the term ‘privacy’ in this article). When a product that promises and attempts to address privacy concerns, tech users are likely to adopt it early on and experiment with it.
But if my assumption here is correct, how long will it take for the almost 1 billion facebook users to realise and jump ship? Oh, wrong question. Are facebook users actually concerned about their privacy? If they are, will they know when a better product comes on the market (not that Google+ is that product)? And most importantly, will they jump ship once that product all privacy campaigners are yearning for? In attempting to answer these questions, let’s ignore the effect of externalities. I would argue that since facebook users DO NOT understand or care about privacy (I would like to see a study that nullifies this claim), a robust and privacy enhanced social networking tool is unlikely to take off, at least among the general population.