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Google+: Nice to Meet You. How the Hell Does This Work?

This weekend, I received an email invitation to Google+, Google’s new social networking site. As I do whenever I experience anything new, I stared, confused, at my laptop screen trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. With the help of some more knowledgeable friends and through some trial and error, I think I now have a better idea of what Google+ is all about.

How it works:

Basically, Google+ is a social networking site, similar to Facebook. It has a number of differences, and as it’s still in its beta stage, any and all of its features are subject to change. Instead of a friend list, you have “circles.” Your account comes with some circles already set up: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. You can add as many circles as you want; I added a “Persephone” circle, a “Coworker” circle, and a “These People Will Never See Anything I Post” circle. People will know that you’ve added them to your circles, but they cannot tell which one or ones they’ve been added to, nor can they see the name of your circles.

You share things on Google+ in a manner similar to most other social networking sites. You can share text (like a status update), photographs, videos, links, and location check-ins. Each time you share something, you can customize which of your circles you’re sharing with. Once you select circles to share to, it will default to that, but you can change it at any time. When things are shared, they appear on your “stream,” which is very much like a feed on other networking sites. You can customize your stream to only show shares from certain circles, or to aggregate shares from everyone in your circles.

Google+ uses the “+1” in a similar manner that Facebook uses “like”s. You can +1 other people’s shares, photos, comments, and pretty much all other content. It looks like, depending on privacy settings, sometimes a +1 will appear on a post that reads, “+1 by someone outside your circles.” Since I can see comments and +1s from some people who are not in my circles, I assume that the message appears when someone changes who can see their activity. I haven’t fully delved into most of the privacy settings yet, but it looks like everything is pretty much customizable.

Privacy:

The following is the Google+ privacy statement in its entirety, taken from the Google+ Project privacy page:

June 28, 2011

The Google Privacy Policy describes how we treat personal information when you use Google’s products and services, including information provided when you use Google+. In addition, the following describes our additional privacy practices specific to Google+.

If you use the mobile version of Google+, the Mobile Privacy Policy applies in addition to this Google+ Privacy Policy.

Information we collect and how we use it

We will record information about your activity – such as posts you comment on and the other users with whom you interact – in order to provide you and other users with a better experience on Google services.

We may also collect information about you from other users, such as when someone puts you in one of their circles or tags you in a photo. Some users may choose to display information about you publicly, such as by displaying your public profile name and photo on their Google Profile in a list of people they’ve added to their circles.

Google Profile.

In order to use Google+, you need to have a public Google Profile visible to the world, which at a minimum includes the name you chose for the profile. That name will be used across Google services and in some cases it may replace another name you’ve used when sharing content under your Google Account. We may display your Google Profile identity to people who have your email address or other identifying information.

Posts and other content shared by or with you – such as photos of you – may be visible on your profile to those with whom that content has been shared. You can use the profile editor to see how your profile appears to particular individuals.

Circles.

You can add people into different circles to share information with a group. People in your circles (but not the name of the circle) will appear to others on your Google Profile, unless you choose not to display that information. You can manage the people in your circles here.

Photos and Videos.

If you upload a photo or video to Google+, we will store that content in a Picasa web album and enable the Picasa Web Albums product for your Google Account if you haven’t already used Picasa. The Picasa Privacy Policy will apply to your use of Picasa, in addition to this Google+ privacy policy. If you do not want us to store metadata (such as photo details) associated with your photos and videos, please remove that data before uploading the content.

Notifications

may be sent to you or to other people when you take certain actions in Google+, such as adding people to a circle, starting a hangout or tagging someone in a photo.

Location.

When using Google+ on your mobile device, Google collects your location to provide the service (such as to display nearby posts to you), as described when you sign up for the mobile version of the product. When you post content to Google+ from your mobile device, you may opt out of the collection and display of your location on a per-post basis or choose to exclude your location from all of your posts. When posting from a non-mobile device, you can choose to add your location on a per-post basis.

We may display posts to which you’ve attached your location to users who seek to view Google+ posts “nearby” the location where you created your post. Those posts will be viewable only by those with whom the content has been shared.

+1 Button and Personalization off Google.

If you +1 content in Google+ (such as a friend’s public post), the uses of that action and your choices are as described in the +1 Button Privacy Policy.

Uses of the collected information

In addition to the above, our uses of the information you provide to us are described in the Google Privacy Policy.

We may share aggregate statistics about Google+ activity with the public, our users, and partners, such as publishers, app developers, or connected sites.

Your Choices in addition to those described above

Account Settings.

You can access and edit your account settings – including privacy settings – through Account Settings or from the upper-righthand corner when you are logged into certain Google products. Among other things, in Account Settings you can change the settings for notifications we send to you.

Sharing.

You can choose to whom you send items in Google+. All recipients of a post may be able to see some information about the other people who have received it. Participants added to a group conversation may be able to see the history of that conversation (including participants added to group conversations in the mobile Huddle feature). Also, be aware that when you share something through Google+, anyone who received it may share it with others.

Photos.

After someone tags you in a shared photo or video, you may choose to remove the tag.

Third Party Apps.

You may choose to access Google+ through third-party applications (e.g. non-Google websites) by authorizing these applications to access all or part of your Google Account via the Access Request page. The developer of the application may have access to your email address and to the content you have access to in Google+ (such as content friends have shared with you). The developer may also request additional information from you, such as your location for mobile features of Google+. You can revoke the developer’s access to your Google Account at any time by visiting this settings page.

App providers (such as game providers) may send you notifications directly. You will need to contact the app provider to change the type and frequency of notifications they send to you.

If your friends use apps, those applications may gain access to content and information about you that those friends can access.

Local storage on your device

We will store data (such as your recent posts) locally in your browser. You may be able to access and clear this information in your browser settings.

More information

Google adheres to the U.S. Safe Harbor privacy principles. For more information about the Safe Harbor framework or our registration, see the Department of Commerce’s web site.

Privacy concerns have long been at the forefront of user complaints with regards to other social networking sites, such as Facebook, so it’ll be interesting to see how Google manages user privacy as the Google+ user base grows.

Drawbacks

As I mentioned, Google+ is currently in its beta stage. Invitations are being controlled so that there are not huge numbers of new users joining at once. Because of this, my circles currently have 17 people in them. I average about 200 people or so each on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, so obviously, I’m not interacting with the same number of people. Yet.

There is currently an Android mobile app for Google+, but there is not an iPhone approved app yet, as I discovered when I tried to upload an adorable picture of one of my dogs. I can upload pictures from my computer, and I can access Google+ on my iPhone, but there is not yet full functionality for all of the major mobile devices.

My main concern with Google+ was exactly how much information Google has about me. I mean, it has my Internet searches, it has my emails, it has my chats; really, it knows pretty much everything about me. When I signed up for Facebook, I had a number of issues with the site interacting with my email address book, which, as many people well know, can lead to situations varying from annoying (constant friend suggestions for people you emailed once for work) to infuriating (allowing anyone else who has your email address in their address book to have their contacts farmed and the data used in any number of unclear ways). To try to avoid this with Google+, I signed up with a Gmail address that is not my primary email, and that I am only using for Google+. So, no contacts, no suggestions based on who I’ve emailed, and (I’m hoping) no chance of a catastrophic data breach that publishes all of my emails onto my Google+ stream, although I’m sure that my friends would get a kick out of some of our Persephone editorial email chains.

I suppose my experience with Google+ is going to very much be a “wait and see” sort of thing. It all depends on how many people use the site, how pervasive it becomes, and whether or not I discover that I’ve reached my mental limits on social networking. I’m also interested to see if Google+ will do to Facebook what Facebook did to Myspace. With a user saturation of, oh, let’s say, everyone, Facebook has really expanded as much as it reasonably can, and so it makes sense that people will flock to the next big thing. And honestly, between privacy issues, constant changes in settings (including the absolutely obnoxious new FB Chat that insists on randomly signing me in, even though I will never want to chat on FB, ever), and having every single person I’ve ever met being on Facebook, I’m willing to give the new thing a chance.

Has anyone played around on Google+? How have you found the experience so far?

8 replies on “Google+: Nice to Meet You. How the Hell Does This Work?”

I played with it last week a bit. I really like the ease of use of the circles – I mean, I know I have the option of making lists of different types of contacts in Facebook and to control who gets to see what, but it’s all so buried I’ve never bothered. This is straight up front – to add a friend you drag them into a relevant circle – done! Other than that it’s pretty much like Facebook. *ducks and covers*.

Like the previous commenter, I have a friend who works at Google so I got an invite early but didn’t sign up until recently. I think I’ve added two people to circles and otherwise I haven’t touched it. But, I’m not really great when it comes to social media, and I’m not an early adopter when it comes to tech. If it pans out I will maybe start using it more…

My roommate works at Google, so I joined early-ish. I’m quite liking it, as friends that would never post on Facebook are treating it like their twitter feed and adding interesting things I would have never learned otherwise, but (thankfully) not to twitter levels of inanity. I’m still moderating my posts carefully like I did for Facebook, and I agree that Google is the borg, but it’s promising so far.

I just got it and am still learning everything. There are only about 6 friends on it with me.

One’s being a brat about joining – but she still joined, I didn’t even have to convince her. She was basically like Well, I’ll try it but I’ll compare everything to Facebook and bitch about how Facebook is better. (paraphrasing) So, she’s been keeping me updated on how it sucks.

But everyone else digs it. We’ve all posted photos, made comments, tried shit out. I like pressing random buttons and seeing what happens. And yes, my first photo posted was of Sidney the Turtle. :)

I’ve been on a few days, and I’m getting used to it. I came on with a few dozen people from another social site, so I have an active feed, but its still strange. The developers are on there and asking for what people want to see, and are making updates all the time.

I just got it, too! So far I have like 9 people. I think I like it so far, but I usually like new things and often eventually bore of them. But if a small but core-ish group of my friends use it, I could see using it in a different way than I use facebook. I rarely post status updates on fbook because I don’t want to bore every person I’ve ever met at a party once with the mundanity of my life (made that word up), but if I could just post to the group of friends I train for races with, I could post boring running stuff to them and not bother other people, or just post wedding ideas to my friends who are co-bridesmaids with me in our friends wedding, etc. While you CAN do that on facebook, I can see being more active with it on a site that’s designed with those more limited interactions in mind. But who knows. It’ll depend on who joins.

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