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Google+ Social Networking Built for Privacy?

Social Networking is the biggest and most importantly the fastest growing Internet branch at the moment. The companies have managed such a steep intake of new users over the past 18 month and most of it translated into what the company is worth.

It is what people do on the internet, they spend time on social networking sites. According to the 2011 stats published by Ken Burbary users do:
“Average user spends an average 15 hours and 33 minutes on Facebook per month, the average user visits the site 40 times per month and the average user spends an 23 minutes (23:20 to be precise) on each visit.” This is a lot of time for one network and there are many others. Most users will also be using Twitter and Gowalla and so on.

Now that the first really big hype around these sharing platforms is over the a lot of users start to rethink the practice of sharing with everybody, random and unwanted friends. They start to ask for more controle over the mechanisms behind the suggestions, the adds and the linkages. But most of all users want easier controle over what is happening around their profile.

After the 2009 wave of privacy discussion centring around Facebook and Google, most services have implemented better options, but it is getting extremely complicated to use them and manage these functions relevant. Adjusting the settings manually for each group and each page and each entry and each status and each photo and each link and each what ever…, is really taking half the fun out of the activity.

Social connections seem to be fragmented and individuals have ties to different groups of people each having different expectations, likes, standards or practices. There might be a group of work colleagues including the boss, there is the group of parents from your child’s nursery, there is a group of school friends you haven’t see in ages and there are all these nerdy people from the sunflower growing circle and so on.

You know all of them or at least have some connections to them, however certain elements do not fit from one group to the other. It’s not that you are leading a secret life in all the groups (probably you are), but the context is just different. It requires more insight to understand some of he items, inks, comments and jokes and this is relative to the groups.

Google+ you
Image taken from Google+ / The new design puts a strong emphasis on ‘you’ to reflect the software architecture focus. Also the design is slightly less comics than the other Google stuff so far. This is a good step they are taking. It has to look at bit more serious so people can trust it. This is not to say they have to drop their colours.

Very likely the work group and the parent group will not fit and so will the group of old school friends not connect to any of the content from the nerds. Managing this can be painfully complicated on existing networks. This comes as some sort of historic load of how the platforms have grown and developed. Back then there were different elements crucial, because the idea of online networking had to be introduced at first.

A new generation of social networking platforms is about to come a long and if they want to be successful they better make this management element core. Google is the first one to launch a new service with their Google+ and it is said to feature this management element very central with clever, but simple tools to adjust and handle this.

XKCD Google+
Image taken from XKCD / Google+ as discussed across offices these days.

Google+ introduces a new terminology for the wall, friends, groups and so on. It comes as Circles – a group of friends, and this is how you arrange them, Hangouts – where you can spend time with your contacts, Sparks – where you share and find new stuff.

There is a lot more like a Profile and a Stream and Photos. But also the privacy with a privacy policy and general Settings are par tof this important management board. There is also direct information on Backup, something that has never been talked about in the socil networking context so far and Google seems to be willing to offer solutions here as well as the shuttign down of acounts here called Downgrade.

Google has also changed the entry requirements and it seams that signing up to Google getting a specific gmail address is no longer necessary as it was with all the previous services. This will probably make a lot of people willing to give it a try, but then most people wil already have a gmail address from the previous services.

Very interesting will be the integration of location based and mobile sharing of which there is only little known at the moment. Will Google relaunch Latitude a fourth time or will Google+ have an integrated location service? We shall see.

It will be very interesting how these user centred setting management options will transform the service and how the platform is used. Currently it is run in privat beta, but the interest seems massive. People are keen to get into building a new social network. But then this was the same with Google Buzz and Google Wave, which both were later not that successful. However, it is likely that both of them together with latitude sort of feed into this new Google+.

The privacy and ethics discussion will be ongoing. And it will be for example interesting to what extend an API will be provided allowing to mine the social networking data at large which is generated through the use of the service. One question will be how this can be integrated with the stepped up privacy policy or whether, as Google has done so far, they restrict access to this part of the service.