Today, we kick off our weeklong series on Google+ with a post on Circles by UX designer, Jason and marketing director, Kate. This series was composed as a response to last week’s Business Insider article, More Hints That Google+ Is A Deserted Wasteland by Matt Rosoff. Watch out for posts later this week on Hangouts and SEO.
Google+ has identified an audience of users connecting through shared interests rather than personal relationships. Instead of confining users with statuses and updates from only friends or family members, Google+ has positioned itself as a social discovery and organizational tool.
How is Google+ a social discovery tool? To see how this works, we did a Google+ search for “gaming.” It returned a slew of gaming industry-related pages and people like IGN, G4TV and Larry Hryb, a member of the Xbox Live team. It also gave us a real-time ticker of posts from all over Google+ related to gaming. The process made it easy to connect with gaming enthusiasts and professionals, like Larry Hryb, and save this interest-search as a Spark to follow and post directly from in the future.
What happens after being connected to a wide variety of different people though? Acquaintances, study group partners, gaming buddies, Reuben enthusiasts, band mates, rock climbing buddies, industry contacts, clients – chances are you don’t want to share everything you do with all of these different people all of the time, especially when it could affect your professional life. This is where Circles come in.
With Circles you have to ability to not just organize the different groups of people in your online social life, but share specifically with them. This also means you have the ability not to share things with specific groups. With Circles, you can share something with only your gaming buddies and band mates, but not with your industry contacts or clients. You can now effectively separate your personal and professional online self – you can speak to directly to the groups you want to.
Of course, Google+ isn’t the only social networking site that is savvy to the idea of grouping your connections. All the other major players have their own built-in ways of doing it. Google+, however, is based on the idea of connection grouping rather than implementing it as an optional feature. Let’s take a look at how other popular platforms allow users to get organized to better understand how this works.
With Facebook, lists are entirely optional and have two main functions: for users to filter their newsfeeds or to post an update for only certain friends to see – just like Circles. Facebook recommends three lists to get users started: close friends, acquaintances and restricted – each list comes along with custom capabilities for communicating via Facebook. With custom lists, users can organize their friends similar to Google+, choosing the name of the list and who is in it – another parallel, friends are not notified when they’re added to these lists. Facebook also offers smart lists that automatically update based on common information users have with friends, such as friends that live nearby or coworkers. A quick survey around the office showed that knowledge of the Facebook Lists function is minimal. The actual task of adding friends to a list is not as simple as the others – friends can be added to lists by hovering over the Friends button on their profile, a destination most users don’t click on a daily basis.
Twitter has also coined their organization feature as lists. When users view their lists, they see a modified stream with tweets by list members. Unlike any of the other sites examined, a user doesn’t need to follow another user in order to add them to a list. When a Twitter user follows a new profile, the function is right there: Add or remove from lists. One of the leading features of lists on Twitter is the capability to subscribe or follow others’ lists. Unlike Google+ and Facebook, lists compiled by other users are accessible and open to be followed by other users. In fact, “following a list is as simple as following another user” on Twitter.
LinkedIn, like Twitter, has also taken additional steps to get users making lists. In fact, LinkedIn prompts users to place their contacts into groups by asking how they know a contact before connecting. Contacts can be identified as the following: colleague, classmate, we’ve done business together, friend, other or I don’t know this person. It’s not as simple as clicking “other” or “I don’t know this person” though, as these options will then prompt a user to enter that person’s email address. We also found that many of our staff members find this extra task irritating, as contacts don’t always easily fall into one of these categories. However, unlike the other sites we’ve looked at, these lists cannot be utilized for filtering updates, meaning an update cannot just be shared with one list and a stream cannot be filtered to only see updates from certain connections. These groups do come in use though on the Contacts page where lists can be viewed by connection type.
Unlike Facebook, with Google+ Circles users can create communities of people with shared interests, even if they’re not a “friend.” Unlike Twitter, users can communicate directly with said groups. And finally, like LinkedIn, Google+ forces users to categorize users, but with Circles users can create and choose how to do so. All in all, Google+ truly does make connecting with others online more like connecting in the real world. It’s not about engaging with as many people as possible or having the loudest voice – it’s about creating meaningful connections with others based on shared interests and passions.