I’m watching the Google+ “launch” with great interest because at its center appears to be great “friend management” tools (see links below for the best detailed reviews).
Friend managment has been the bane of my Facebook experience because I don’t want to share everything with everyone. I also made the mistake of accepting far too many friend invitations with the result that I share very little on my “personal” account. While there are tools like Facebook Groups and friend lists, they are incredibly cumbersome and difficult to use.
Google+ leverages the fact that you already have your “real” friends listed and possibly even organized in your address book. This is especially true if you are using Gmail. Take a look at your Gmail address book and you’ll see your top 20 contacts already identified. Google knows this, and also knows who you frequently email together as a group (parents of your child’s class, book club, family reunion email list, etc.) and uses that information to drive the insight needed to suggest natural groups for you to form inside of Google+ Circles.
Google can leverage all of that behavioral information into helping you easily manage your relationships. Because face it–who you share with, how often, and with what other people you do that sharing provides valuable insight into the nature of the relationships.
Now for the scary privacy part — remember that Google also “reads” the contents of your email to show you ads on the side of Gmail. For the most part, we’ve gotten over this. But what if I gave permission (note: permission is crucial!) for Google to make recommendations on if and when I should add someone to a group? If I’m emailing someone frequently about biking trails, Google+ may suggest that I add that person to my biking Circle. Fundamentally, you would have to have a deep, trusting relationship with Google at a different level for this to happen. But the benefits could be tremendous.
Take that level of trust to a different level if you have an Android phone. Would you be OK with letting Google mine the contact, call, and texting data on your phone to help you build a more social experience with those people you communicate the most? What about your Google Calendar or Google Voice data?
I say this because most of my communications, both personal and professional, are run on Google’s platforms. Facebook does not have insight into all of the “real” sharing that I do in real life, while Google does.
My take on how this will play out is that Google has the natural ability to pull together groups based on communication patterns, and to also leverage the natural groups that already use communication platforms. It will be a no-brainer for Gmail to start using Google+, a much harder sell for non-Gmail users.
The result will be unified sharing, as opposed to unified messaging, on Google platforms. This won’t happen overnight and it will be far from being a “Facebook killer”. Rather, it’s a smart move by Google to leverage its strengths in communication platforms, algorithms, and trust of core users to move into social.
Lastly, I don’t expect Facebook to stay still for long. Look for them to roll out improved friend management tools in the near future. But regardless, they will always lack the behavioral intelligence to help me truly manage my friends, unless I am a devoted Facebook user.