Google+, not Wave or Buzz

By Razib Khan | June 29, 2011 11:33 pm

I’ve been playing around with Google+ a little today. Farhad Manjoo no like, More Like Google Minus:

… First, I don’t know whom the company thinks it’s kidding; Google+ is obviously a direct competitor to Facebook. Given the large overlap in functionality, I can’t imagine that many people will use Google+ and Facebook simultaneously. For most of us, it will be one or the other. Google+’s success, then, will rest in large part on Google’s ability to convince people to ditch Facebook for the new site. For that, Google+ will have to offer some compelling view of social networking that’s substantially different from what’s available on Facebook. And that’s where Google+ baffles me. What is so compelling about Google+ that I can’t currently get on Facebook or Twitter? Or Gmail, for that matter? At the moment, I can’t tell….

But circles are nothing new. Facebook has offered several ways to break your network into smaller chunks for many years now, and it has worked constantly to refine them. And you know what? Almost no one uses those features. Only 5 percent of Facebookers keep “Lists,” Facebook’s first attempt for people to categorize their friends. Recognizing that “Lists” weren’t great, last year the site unveiled a new way to manage your friends, called “Groups.” I was optimistic that “Groups” would help to compartmentalize Facebook, but from what I can tell, few people use that feature, either.

Since Google+ is not “prime time” I’m not going to judge it too much. The interface feels a lot zippier and more fluid than Facebook’s, but that might just be because there are hundreds of millions of people using Facebook. Unlike Manjoo I do think that the idea of “circles” is not without merit. I tried Facebook’s Lists, and it just plain didn’t work the way it was supposed to work, so I gave up. Right now I, along with others, slice and dice my online voice across different platforms. twitter for public interaction, Facebook for semi-public interaction.

When you have friends you know through science blogging, transhumanism, right-wing politics, high school, not to mention cousins who were raised in the Tablighi subculture, Facebook’s one-size-fits-all tendency of throwing them into a big pot has been kind of suboptimal. Then again, most people probably don’t manifest as much dilettantism as I do, leading them to have a much more well “sorted” social set.

I will say though that Google+ doesn’t seem as patently useless as Wave and Buzz were. But if you haven’t gotten an invite, you aren’t missing out on much. There is no way this should warrant the hysteria which was the norm when Gmail first rolled out and required invites.

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Google
  • Meng Bomin

    Unlike Manjoo I do think that the idea of “circles” is without merit.

    After reading both articles, it seems to me that he is arguing that they aren’t as useful as Google thinks they will be and you are arguing that such a feature caters to your online habits, so this sentence is confusing.

    To me, “Circles” seems like a decent theoretical feature, but not one that is of current practical importance to me because while I do have different sets of acquaintances who know me in different contexts, there isn’t currently any one group with whom I feel the need to share information that I would not want shared with other groups.

    However, it does seem like a useful feature particularly for those with a significant public persona such as journalists, bloggers and the like who would also like to keep it separate from their private lives. The archetypal teenager who doesn’t want eavesdropping and inquiry from his or her parents to disrupt the social mix also seems like an audience that such a feature would play well to.

    I will say though that Google+ doesn’t seem as patently useless as Wave and Buzz were. But if you haven’t gotten an invite, you aren’t missing out on much. There is no way this should warrant the hysteria which was the norm when Gmail first rolled out and required invites.

    Ja, I jumped on Wave when it came out, but like Wave, this is a product whose value really depends upon the user base. Since I don’t have any friends (that I know of) currently using Google+, I’m going to hold off and wait for it to mature a bit.

    Re: invite strategy…If Google’s making it invite only to generate buzz (ha!), then it seems counterproductive, but I suspect that they’re trying to control the flood of users so they can work on scaling (something that didn’t work so well with Wave).

  • Sam

    Maybe I’m one of a few when I say this but I actually look at Google and Facebook in completely different light. I use Facebook to communicate with my friends, arrange events and talk while I use the ‘Google Catalogue’ ie buzz, +1, Reader for sharing interesting scientific information.

    I don’t know how many people are in a similar situation to me but being a 21 year old male who’s interested in science it can be difficult living in a world where 90% of your peers don’t actually care. If I decided to share all the science information that I do on Google reader or +1 on Facebook people would start to question “wtf is wrong with this guy” the reality is my peers don’t want to be bombarded with scientific knowledge because they think its “uncool” or “boring” and although that’s where the problems regarding scientifically literacy lie, its out of my control. Because I believe sharing scientific knowledge is important I try my best to do so, but everyone I share it with (apart from a few) are generally people I’ve never met but share a similar interest to me.

    I don’t think that Google will become the new Facebook any time soon, I like the idea of Google +1 because it allows information to be shared and that’s never a bad thing. I for one will be adding it to my science based website very soon (please take a look it recently gone live)

    Talking of Google, why not follow me and I’ll share what I find with you.


  • Sam

    I agree with your intent I think (you meant ‘I *don’t* think that the idea of “circles” is without merit’ , I take it?)

    Manjoo ends with “…Most people are OK with one giant, chaotic circle, and spending a lot of time worrying about the consequences of sharing your stuff there is totally square.”

    But that’s exactly the reason that most people hate Facebook — you can either dump stuff onto your giant chaotic circle, or spend a lot of time trying to control the information you broadcast with privacy settings that are intentionally opaque. No one I know is OK with this setup, they tolerated it because it was the only option (

    Random thought, one functionality that I can see in Plus (crappy name btw), that I would never ever have seen with Facebook is work-related communication.

  • James

    “Facebook has offered several ways to break your network into smaller chunks for many years now, and it has worked constantly to refine them. And you know what? Almost no one uses those features. ”

    I recently had a recent conversation with an Apple fan about the new OS Lion. He kept on gushing about the features, and everytime he named one, I realized it was either not a feature (and in fact was fixing a bug like not being able to full screen certain programs such as iTunes), or had been implemented by other companies year before (The “dropbox” feature is equivalent to a My Network Places folder on windows; Google has been autosaving for years, but Steve Jobs makes it sound revolutionary). This can be said of many Apple products, and in fact almost all super-successful gadgets throughout the years. They take something that could already be done elsewhere but made it more intuitive to use, aesthetically pleasing, and convenient.

    I think that is what Google+ is trying to do for social networking. You may not have like Facebook lists, but that’s because they were annoying as hell to work with. The little I’ve done with circles has been far more pleasant, even fun. Remember what google did to email with the aggregation of message threads? I’m sure they’re hoping the same will happen with Google+. Of course, it will only be successful if enough people switch over from other social networking sites, but just remember how few people thought Friendster or Myspace could be taken down back in the day.

  • Dion

    It’s obviously just a case of personal preference because for me the circles in google+ are fantastic. I know facebook is capable of similar function but it’s so poorly executed that I can’t be bothered setting it all up to get it working and subsequently I post very little stuff on facebook. With circles I can divide up my uni friends who’ll be interested in any cog neuro things I find, from my closest friends who I can share more personal things with, from family and I can definitely see myself using them in a way which I could never be bothered with on facebook. The only problem will obviously be the user base. As useful as I personally find circles, if there aren’t enough people who agree then google+ won’t get the user base big enough for it to be useful to me or anyone else. I would personally prefer to use google+ but that will depend entirely on whether or not my friends do too. It’ll be fun to see what happens, I hope it produces a second large social network which competes with, rather than replaces, facebook.

  • Zachary Latif

    I read about it in the papers this morning and really wanted an invite; now not at all after this review.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Data export [through Google Takeout] is, for me, a big advantage. Google’s very open about letting you export your data, while Facebook wants to lock you in forever. Which approach seems more trustworthy?

    And maybe you meant “the idea of ‘circles’ is not without merit”?

  • Razib Khan

    meant *not* without merit :0)

  • mike o

    Nobody uses lists or groups because they’re poorly implemented and confusing to use. I think if this were done well and straightforward, I would love to take advantage of it. So, yes, Google+ has the same feature, but is it better?

  • Kevin R. Bridges

    As far as circles is concerned, I think that technology has shown us very concretely that the more like the physical world an interface is, generally the better. Windows showed us this by letting us drag icons around the screen, and the iPhone showed us this further. Facebook lists are functional, but I don’t like dealing with them. I do when it’s absolutely necessary (like if I’m making a post about drugs and I don’t want my mom-in-law to see it). If it was quicker to use, and more intuitive, I would use it. From the ads I’ve seen, Google did exactly that.

    If Google wants Google+ to be successful I think two things are important: They have to get companies like Zynga and Digital Chocolate to feature their games on the site, because I know some very dedicated Frontierville and Zombie Lane players that wouldn’t want to give up their progress in those games. Secondly, Google+ will need to reduce newsfeed spam from aforementioned games, even to those that play them.

  • EcoPhysioMichelle

    I think you’ve hit on the one thing I really, passionately dislike about Facebook. It lumps all of my “friends” together. High school friends, college friends, grad school friends, family members, and all of my internet friends from my wide and varied internet activities, from science bloggers to the people I used to write collaborative X-Men fanfiction with in high school (don’t judge me). Do I really WANT all these circles overlapping in one place? Hell no!


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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