With plushy icons and bigger pictures, the newly redesigned Google+ may look more like your Facebook profile would if it also had YouTube and Hangouts, but the real difference is in the way the social layer merges your public and private lives.
“A critical piece of this social layer is a design that grows alongside our aspirations,” wrote Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of Google in a blog post. “We’re aiming for an experience that fuses utility with beauty—one that inspires you to connect with others, and cherish the conversations that unfold.”
Like Facebook, Google+ could have become a “walled garden” where its 170 million users live in a self-contained world of instant messages and family photos. There’s really nothing wrong with this: not everyone goes online to make new friends and most people like having a place to talk freely with the people they know in the real world.
But Google’s other products, like Search, Maps, and YouTube, are more about exploring the outside world than keeping in touch with friends. This data is by no means private, but at least Google doesn’t broadcast to your friends when you’re looking up remedies for embarrassing medical conditions. Sometimes you just need information, not advice.
Google+ seems to resolve this conflict by combining personal connections and shared interests. You can see what your friends are posting, and also see what’s trending elsewhere on the network. There are public video conferences called Hangouts that you can join and a tool for organizing a Hangout with your friends. And just like Twitter, you can add people to your “follow circle” so you can just sit back and observe people and pages outside your personal network. If all you want to do is find good articles to read or videos to watch, there’s no point in subjecting strangers to unsolicited friendship requests.
Where there were relevant search results, there are now popular search results; where there were trusted websites, there are now experts. Ultimately, the social layer will enhance discovery with social data, making the social network less personal and the search bar more human.
Image by Li Wa via Shutterstock.