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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Power of Google+: Privacy "Circles" the Entire Experience

Facebook has always had one strength that no other social network (other than perhaps FriendFeed) has seemed to fully get: The fact that you could add friends to lists, and target your updates so only those lists, and specific people you chose, can see the updates you post. I share this in my presentations often - it's Facebook's best kept secret. The problem is just that - it's currently buried in the Facebook interface and not many people know about it.

With Google+ it's different though. The entire experience is built around its equivalent to Facebook lists: Circles. From the very beginning you have to choose who will be in what circle, and every time you add a friend it automatically pops up your list of circles with little to no effort. To "friend" someone, you don't friend them - you add them to one of your lists. It's that simple.

Not just that, but the default privacy setting on Google+ is nothing. If I just post on Google+ without saying where I want it to go, no one but myself will see it. I have to specify a Circle just for anyone to see this. It forces me to make a conscious decision before I post as to who will be seeing my updates. I think it's genius!

With Facebook, the friendship is always 2-way. This forces a much more intimate environment, but a closed one as a result. No one can just "follow" me and get the updates I want them to see. I have to let everyone into my network, and as a result, they have to let me into theirs. As a result this does cause closer relationships and more of a social contract, but it also keeps me from posting updates that Google and other 3rd party bots can index, or that just anyone can follow.

On Google+ it's not that way - they take more of a Twitter approach, allowing anyone to "follow" anyone, no matter what. In a sense, this puts Google Circles at a greater risk to putting Twitter out of business, as it takes the Twitter follow model and lists, and adds privacy settings to it, using those lists to make that happen. I bet we'll see Twitter do this in the near future as a response to Google Circles. 

Regardless, Google Circles, alongside a "follow" strategy removes the need for any type of Brand page like Facebook Pages, and allows the poster to completely decide who, and what sees the posts that they share on Circles. Not only that but they are 100% conscious of those decisions the entire way (as long as someone doesn't reshare their private posts to a more public stream, which is possible right now if you don't consciously turn off the ability to reshare, which is buried).

The biggest thing Google did right this time around is they did what no other social network was doing. They took privacy, and put it smack in the face of the user to make their own conscious decisions. There's no avoiding Circles in Google+. It greets you every step of the way and that's quite a pleasant thing to see in a world of growing privacy concerns.

I'm excited to see where Google goes with this. I'm extremely excited to see how Facebook and Twitter compete in this new game. The cool thing about it all is the game is no longer focused on who has your social graph or your content (although that is certainly a part) - it is now about who has the best privacy controls and that's a great battle to sit between as a user.

As always, you can follow me on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/107833107845497630206.

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