Last week, Google finally unveiled their eagerly awaited new social-networking platform: Google+.
In trying to differentiate themselves in the competition with both Facebook and Twitter, their key selling point has been the concept of "Circles", where every one of a user's contacts is placed in one of more circles intended to represent the social groups that that user has. My colleagues at Gravitywell, for example, obviously slot straight into a "Work" circle. This means that anything that I might want to post on my profile I can choose to share to any given sub-set of contacts. What I find interesting is how this has been received so warmly given that Facebook already implements nearly identical functionality in their friends lists. The key difference is probably one of interface: it seems that very few people are even aware that this is possible in Facebook, whilst Google have placed Circles to the front and centre of their design philosophy: it's impossible to merely add a friend without indicating in which circle they belong. (There's also an interesting article on The Atlantic about how Google are exploiting some game mechanics to reward their users for grouping their contacts).
Another key differentiator from Facebook is the fact that "friends" do not have to have a symmetric relationship: just like Twitter, placing a user in one of your circles subscribes you to their "Public" feed of posts without the need for them to acknowledge you. If they do choose to include you in one of their circles, you'll then be able to see, as relevant, additional posts that they've chosen to share with that circle. Interestingly, it's possible that this design decision places Plus in closer competition with Twitter than Facebook: by adopting the asymmetric follower model, Google is able to target a number of Twitter's weaknesses inherit in the 140 character limitation.
The Plus Android app is also very well implemented, and a number of other Plus features are in themselves sufficiently well accomplished to merit investigation: particularly Hangouts, which are super cool.
Ultimately the success of any social network will only ever be a function of the number of users that choose to adopt it; and despite some of Plus' attractive features, it feels as though they still have to do a huge amount to persuade a critical mass of ordinary Facebook users to migrate a huge part of their online social lives' to a new service.