May 15, 2012

Why Google+ is better than Facebook as a professional social media platform

So many social media platforms, so many decisions... From the battle of social media platforms have come three giants we all know; Twitter, Facebook and Google+, all very likely to stay for a while. Twitter, restricting posts to 140 characters, has a different approach and has turned out to be an excellent medium to discover new, interesting information. It's also good for making new contacts but minimal profile information and communication features makes it limited for anything more than that. And thus it isn't even considered to be a competitor to the other two giants, Facebook and Google+.

Many have said that Google+ is nice but it isn't making the expected impact and I see most my colleagues ignoring Google+ because it lacks the critical mass of users to have any power. I think this is a pity since Google+ has some powerful tools and features and in my opinion is a much better network for professional networking, unlike Facebook which still today has reminders of it's roots in a network for college students. As I learn more about Google+ I find my self leaning more and more towards it and actually stepping away from Facebook as it is becoming just too much nonsense. Let me explain why.

Google+ enters the scene and breaks records

Facebook has been around for years while Google+ is the new kid on the block but it has Google's enormous back-end with complimentary IT tools- and services not to be undermined. Integrated with Gmail, Picasa and Google Docs (now Google Drive) amongst others it is so much more than just another social media platform and has many tools to be more than an entertainment platform. This along with excitement, as people were eager to see Google's implementation of a social media network, made Google+ welcomed as it was launched in July 2011. Records were broken in just a few days as users flocked in to try it out but the sunshine story faded as most users didn't return. What else was there to expect, it was like coming to a banquet full of food but with only a few attending. Google+ newbies got lonely.

Facebook is not a professional playground

Facebook was started as an online network for college students. Nobody could have foreseen the tremendous growth Facebook was to go through in the coming years but this growth spurt has also turned out to be Facebook's Achilles heel. As a network for college students, privacy was never an issue - the kids wanted to see their classmates doing heroic or stupid things and seeing someone dead drunk in a bush on the schoolyard was simply cool. Posts were open to everyone and as Facebook opened to the rest of the world this non-privacy approach lived on until new users started crying out, asking for fixes. Major issues were plastered and privacy settings introduced but too complicated for users to grasp. Still today, the average user has no idea how much of his or her posts are visible to other contacts or even rest of the world through the search engines. The fact remains; on Facebook, you mostly read everything from everyone. Not only is it a privacy concern but also you are easily overwhelmed by useless information like 'Joe just ate a meatball yesterday' and 'Jane Liked it'. A little like a kids playground if you ask me.

Google's approach: Circles

This is not the kind of media I want as my professional platform (nor for private purposes!) and Google was smart as they recognized the problem and came up with a solution: Circles. For each friend (contact) you add on your Google+ account, you define what circles your friend should belong to. A little extra work compared to Facebook's way of just adding a friend, but this way yields a high ROI (return of investment) as you, through your Circles, define not only who can read your posts but also what you want to read on your wall (called Stream in Google+). So when I want feedback from my emergency medicine colleagues I will post that post only to that circle and if it's personal family photos my colleagues will not have to read that. It is very important you understand this is not only a major leap for privacy but also a way to have your wall fed only with what you are interested in, you will not read about your friends Like-ing the meatballs somebody else ate.

To Facebook's defence, they have actually added the 'Lists' feature to try to achieve the same results and even a mute button for individuals - but these were introduced too late. Nobody has time or energy to go through their hundreds of contacts and group each and everyone to a list. Google+ does this right from the beginning and even does it with an intuitive and graphical drag 'n drop interface to make the task of circling friends an easy one to do, almost fun even.

Hashtags for discovery

Social media is a great tool for discovering new content, you can do that either by watching posts from your contacts or follow a particular channel. The hashtag (#) is a simple technology for the latter; using #emergencymedicine as a search pattern on Twitter or Google+ will show you in real-time what people or posting, relating one way or the other to emergency medicine.
Notice 'Sparks' on the top for easily selecting your channel You can also save hashtag searches (Google+ calles these Sparks) for fast access later (your saved searches also affect what is displayed on your main Steam ('wall'). This is yet another feature to minimize the clutter you are confronted with on your wall (said a little rougher; cut the bullshit) as you can easily select what 'channel' you want to read from. So when I don't feel in the mood to be fed with random clutter I click the Emergency Medicine Doctors and read only posts from these. Or I click #Linux and read only what's going on in the Linux world. It's a feature you will love once you've met!

Facebook lacks this feature and actually returns a rather awkward, cluttered list of search results if you search 'emergency medicine' without the hashtag. Google+ returns a more intuitive list of results and even attempts to prioritize them to fit your interests.

Google Hangouts for easy video-conferences

In 2011 a few lucky ones got to speak directly with Barack Obama using Google+ Hangout Many have tried to provide for a decent interface for video-conferencing and most have failed, succumbed to technical challenges or just lack of users (in todays competitive climate you literally have to give gold to attract users). With Google+ the Hangout was introduced as a easy and quick way to start a video conversation with up to 10 users simultaneously. This is a tool companies would have paid thousands of dollars for only few years ago and is now available for free.
Add to this how easy it is to discover and contact interesting people on Google+ and you should realize the potential. Online discussion panels or debates about hot topics in emergency medicine... and you can participate from your living room - how awesome is that!

Other small stuff I like about Google+

Animated GIFs make life beautiful!
  • Google+ integrates very nicely with the mothership, Google's search engine, for smooth and easy publicity of your posts on the Internet (if you wish so). Defining posts as public or confined only to your selected circles is very intuitive and hard to do wrong. Facebook has had years of criticism for this as the settings were introduced late and are cumbersome to use. 
  • Your posts can not only be deleted if you regret but also edited, something that Facebook amazingly doesn't allow.
  • Google+ is tightly integrated with Picasa, Google's excellent photo & album manager. With Google+ you can instantly edit and arrange your photos stored on Picasa and those you add through Google+ are instantly accessible through Picasa. With the Android app (I don't know about the iOS or Win versions, anyone?) you can ask for all photos to be automatically uploaded to your Google+/Picasa account, sparing you the hassle of plugging the phone to a computer to get your photos. 
  • On Google+ you don't get the feeling that you are a puppet being used to create treasure for money makers in the market. Advertising is minimal and I don't expect Google+ to disgust me with the idea of asking for money for prioritized status updates as Facebook has just introduced.
  • Finally, this is what had me come back repeatedly to Google+ for good laughs and inspirations: animated GIFs. Just try the #GIF channel for yourself, be warned - you are going to have a hard time stepping away from your computer!

Further reading