Google+: Do We Need Another Social Network?

Entrepreneur Paul Allen recently predicted 400 Million Google + users by the end of this year, 2012. This is an astounding estimate considering the six-month old site had roughly 60M users as of December and if this proves true it would equal half the 800M users Facebook claims. Is there room in this solar system for the both of them? Are we broadcasting enough of our dinner plans, checking into enough coffee houses, or recording an adequate number of cat videos for both to survive?

Facebook has captivated millions of users on a global scale but many users are both annoyed and bored with the sharing of every bit of minutiae its members are experiencing. Do we really need to be friends with our high-school friends if we haven’t seen them since 1990? Doesn’t one pre-school graduation look like the other? Slate writer Farhad Manjoo fears the continued broadcasting of our every thought and recipe is downgrading the quality of our communication.

Google + may be an antidote. Users report less contact with co-workers or quasi-pals and more interaction with people of similar interests and habits. They aren’t required to be “friends” with other wine enthusiasts or gardeners, they simply follow them, participate in subject matter discussions or join them in “hangouts” (I guess high-school really is harder to get away from) There are more opportunities for education, participation in like-minded communities, and networking.

Brands were recently given space of their own with Google Pages and are making their presence known with much of the same outreach as Facebook. But now that G+ has gone commercial will the appeal remain to “hangout”? Or will the sucking feeling of data collection stifle the sanctuary? Huffington Post’s Bianca Bosker sums it up like this, “If Google+ can evolve as an interest network, Google may be able to amass a different type of data than Facebook about its millions of users, information that’s more focused on passions than personal relationships. But it remains to be seen whether Google+ can retain the quality content and conversation people find so appealing as the service grows.”

Google took another step forward this week and announced “Search plus Your World” which will incorporate Google+ content into the already massive Google search engine. All public posts will be accessible for G+ members through the primary Google search engine and if you’re signed in results will also contain posts shared by you or the people in your circles. Reactions have been mixed but generally favorable, as it will make it easier to find previous posts and subject matter experts. However, the same Facebook-type privacy complaints are being raised as the opportunities grow for even more data collection, tracking and personal information sharing. There is also a mounting unease with the ever-increasing dominance of Google as it moves across planet Earth. Is anyone else picturing the new Google headquarters on the moon?

Google+ may yet overtake Facebook or there may be a happy medium where the two communities settle into social media détente. Perhaps this town’s big enough for the both of them. Or perhaps they’re simply placeholders for a virtual gathering place we have yet to imagine.

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