Social media is now a driving force behind our culture. Yet, the medium may be in store for a radical change of scenery as Google releases its new social media service Google+ and Facebook makes a number of changes to help secure its dominance.
Google+ has been recently opened to the public but is still technically in beta.
It has already attracted over 50 million users in the first 4 months of its operation.
Some features are still a bit buggy and this has put a lot of potential newcomers off.
However, given the influence and power of the online conglomerate that operates it, it’s likely that Google+ will further evolve to include a number of unique features to help bolster its already impressive starting growth.
Google+’s most attractive feature is its use of “circles.” This is a feature that allows you to categorize the people that you follow within the system.
You can group close friends into one circle, work or school acquaintances in another, family in yet another, and so on.
What circle someone is placed in will dictate what content their followers will be able to see.
For instance, say a Google+ user has an overwhelming desire to complain about work.
They can post that as a status but filter the content so that only people in their friend’s circle see it and not their boss, family, or co-workers.
People can be placed in multiple circles and circles can be customized almost endlessly.
Google+ also has features that compete against popular facebook content.
Hangouts for example are video conferences that can be held with a particular circle and everyone within that circle has the opportunity to join.
They can also be held between specific private users if the creator of the hangout chooses to do so.
The hangout feature is still a little buggy but as the service exits out of beta, it promises to be a tough competitor to Facebook’s new Skype integration video conference service.
Sparks are also a new feature of Google+, which allow the user to pick topics that interest them and will make suggestions for similar online topics that might also hold their interest.
But, can Google+ ever hope to compete against Facebook’s almost 800 million user base?
“I just joined Google+ last week and right now it’s really boring. No one else is on. Right now I only have 10 friends on Google+,” Brittany Braswell Junior English major said.
A social media’s worth is based on the number of users and while Google+ has shown a promising start, if it can’t steal enough users away from Facebook its unlikely it will be able to compete seriously on the social media frontier.
Google+’s release has coincided with a number of changes that Facebook has been making to their site that have left a number of their users unsatisfied. It is also promising to bring even further changes in the future.
The main cause of complaints have been with their new live news feed which allow users to track their friends statuses in real time.
“I like to see the more recent posts, but now its harder for me to get to them. Now it’s giving me more stuff that I didn’t realize was there. I’m finding that I have a lot of friends that post things that I didn’t really want to know,” Jeremy Mohrfeld Junior Comp Sci Major said.
Facebook will also soon be unveiling its new Timeline feature, which will chronicle all of the major events in a Facebook users life. A lot of people have also claimed this to be a violation of the user’s privacy, but this is mostly out of a misunderstanding of the feature. Facebook Timeline is a feature that will organize all the information a user, or a user’s family and friend inputs about them.
For instance if a Facebook user’s parents post a picture of them at birth, the timeline feature will attach that picture alongside the day of their birth on their timeline. In theory, this should be the case for any specific event that the feature recognizes from the content a user has posted.
The user can also edit any of the content on the timeline if they don’t want that information to be shared. This service has yet to be released, and how well it will work in mass practice has yet to be seen.
These changes have not been met with the most positive of responses. The youtube video posted by Facebook headquarters that shows how the new timeline feature will work has meet with almost as many dislikes as likes. Many feel that the timeline feature is too invasive and don’t wish for their entire online content to be chronicled for everyone to easily peruse.
“I feel like it’s a little bit invasive in my life and I’m a little bit creeped out by it,” Cevon Rambo Graduate student in Communicative Science Disorders said.
Facebook defends these changes and claim that the fears of users are unfonded.
“You have complete control over everything that’s on your timeline. You can control what’s there and also who sees what you post. Timeline is for you to express who you are,” Mark Zuckerburg creator of Facebook said at the 2011 F8 Conference.
Facebook’s changes seem too many as if they are a means of addressing its new competition. But are these changes going to work in the end and cement Facebook as the king of social media? Or will Google+ emerge as the new dominate presence?
Editor’s Note: A typographical error was made in the original posting of this article.
The statement “…Facebook’s almost 800 billion user base?” is incorrect. Facebook has around 800 million users according to a statistic announced at the 2011 F8 conference.