The Noob’s Guide to Google+

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Judging by the social media world’s irate reaction every time Facebook makes even a small change, the chance that people could readily embrace something as game-changing as Google+ seems preposterous. But I had heard time and again that Google+ is worth looking into. The thing is, if you’re like me, trying something new seems like far too much effort.

I don’t know when this generation became so much like our parents (or grandparents, for that matter), unable to embrace new technology from day one. We’ve developed our habits, our preferences, and our unwillingness to explore the new. Google+ is for people with too much free time on their hands.

With that infinitely versatile cynicism, I jumped right in.

My first thought: Google found a way to combine Twitter and Facebook. The site revolves around the idea of “circles,” the classification you assign to whomever you choose to follow.  You can place those you are closest with in your “friends” or “family” circles and those on the periphery in the “acquaintances” category. Depending on your settings, you can share different pieces of your life (info, photos, videos, etc.) with the groups of your choosing. 

Then came the “following” option. Here is the Twitter-esque notion that you can follow the updates of the more-famous-than-you types. On the main news feed, you can choose to blend the updates of these celebrities with your friends or view them as a separate stream.

This is all well and good, but people already have a Facebook on which they waste far too much time and a Twitter they with which to follow the inane lives of celebrities. Why waste your time with Google+?

In a way, Google+ attempts something far more ambitious: to redefine the social media friendship.

The problem with Facebook might be that we have hundreds of “friends” and so very few friendships. Facebook forces us to interact with those people we had one conversation with five or ten years ago, and now we are forever doomed to read the status updates of how delicious their breakfast had been that morning.

Google+ offers you the chance to acknowledge those arms-length friendships and follow your celebrity crush at the same time, yet it also gives you the chance for meaningful interaction with the most important people in your life. Call it a social media reset button – you can design your virtual life in your own vision to suit your own needs.

To that end, Google+ offers some valuable tools to interact with friends, like the utterly brilliant “hangout” feature. To envision a Google+ hangout, imagine a Skype date, a Facebook chat, a Youtube session with friends, and a game of Pictionary all blended into one. You can video chat with up to nine other friends all at once. You can watch Internet videos together, doodle on a shared scratchpad, and talk late into the night inviting whoever happens to be online. Sounds too hectic? The “hangout” screen will enlarge the box of whoever is talking, keeping things organized and quiet.

In the end even, if you don’t adopt Google+ it will make your life better. The ensuing competition (and consequently, idea sharing) between Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ will make all three sites better. The experience of the social media consumer can only improve.

For now, my curiosity is piqued enough to want more.  Google+, I will make an effort to give you a fair shot. I’m already yearning for a solid “hangout” session with my old high school friends. The problem is they’re only my friends in real life and not where it counts: on Google+.

Photo: Bruce Clay, Inc at flickr.com

Junior > International Studies > Johns Hopkins University

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