Villing & Company

Raking Up Content With Google Plus

I actually enjoy yard work. Maybe because it hearkens back to my first job mowing lawns in my hometown, or maybe I just appreciate the order on display in a finely manicured yard.

But I have to admit, I'm not always Bob Vila when it comes to this stuff. My wife once purchased a rake for me to indulge my love of lawn care. When she brought it home, I wondered why on earth she would choose one with tines that only spread approximately a foot from end to end. She calmly flipped a lever on the handle which caused the rake to expand to a full size. "Oh," I said sheepishly.

I mention that because every so often we need to be shown, "This is how you use this." And it looks like Google+ – unveiled June 28 to a breathlessly waiting audience – has a chance to show us the proper role and use of social media.

On the surface, there isn't much to Google+ that is an entirely new concept. Several elements of the tool seem to have some predecessor in another social network: "Circles" resemble Twitter and Facebook "Lists," and the G+ "Stream" is little more than a better-designed Facebook "Wall." Sharing content on the site largely resembles the functionality of the Facebook "Send" button. Even the "Hangout" function – a quick way for contacts to host a video chat – isn't unique to the social network space, as news of Facebook's Skype-based video calling leaked at about the same time as the G+ launch.

The "Sparks" feature, however, is something that isn't found in its form in other social networks. It relies on Google's most famous product – its search engine – to help users find content relevant to their interests, and ideally, relevant to the interests of their Circles. The activity of sharing this content is the linchpin of the entire G+ experience.

Not that Sparks alone makes or breaks Google+. But it does show the developers' intention to center the experience around content and the people who create and share it. This philosophy allows it to provide more depth than Twitter and excludes all of the extraneous games and clutter of Facebook. When forming relationships on the network (Circles), users must categorize their contacts by asking, "In what topic of conversation am I most likely to engage this person?" The result should be a more relevant experience for all involved, which is why I find it a refreshing change from Facebook and Twitter.

The question is, will enough people feel the same way? Again, what's new here is mostly the way the features of the network are packaged and presented – not always the features themselves. Despite impressive early adoption numbers, I wonder how many social media users will find enough of a differentiation between G+ and other networks to keep them interested beyond a trial period. That will be of major interest to brands, which have so far been given a stiff arm from Google on creating their own Google+ pages.

If Google can maintain interest and create brand pages using the same model – that is, user- and value-centered – then it's clear they will not only finally have a social media network winner, but they'll be contributing to the better use of social media on the whole. They'll be reminding all social media users, "This is how you use this."

Filed Under: social media

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