You're at a party. Lots of people you know there from all these different parts of your life. You've been at this party for a while now. It's fun, but there are some things happening that you're not so crazy about. You keep thinking, "Could I be having more fun, doing something better somewhere else?" But you stay because, as I've said, you know a lot of people and besides, where else would you go?
Then you hear about another party across town that might be really great. Or might not. But you're invited.
The first party is Facebook. The second one is Google+, which just opened up for everyone after being invitation-only for its first few months. And it comes at a time when Facebook is reinventing itself again, making big changes to its site, and causing a lot of users to grumble.
Joe Wilcox, managing editor at BetaNews, says there are some nice new party favors and activities at the Google+ party, including Hangouts. He says, "Hangout is basically a video chat service where you can have multiple people online at once talking with each other, so up to ten people. Google is differentiating the service from what Facebook offers -- Facebook also has a chat service, but it's one-on-one. And now Google will allow you to actually do an over-the-air broadcast, you can have your 10 people and then other people can watch in as well."
Wilcox says the Circles feature, which has been live since Google+ launched as an invitation service, allows you to navigate the party differently. "You can control who can participate in your own little private party at Google+," he says. "They have what they call Circles. So you select groups of people you can organize and then you can share information with them only rather than just everybody. At Facebook, everyone you accept as friend is your friend. At Google+, you control who you want to hang out with, who you want to party with and that's a huge differentiating feature."
So now that we're all invited, who's going to this party? Michigan State University professor Nicole Ellison says it's still unclear whether you're going to know a lot of the guests: "People who might prefer Google+ are people who might want more public interactions with a larger audience, who are maybe looking to do things they can't do on Twitter because of character limits. It could also be attractive to people who are dissatisfied with their current social media site."
As for whether they'll stick around at that party, Ellison says, "I think one of the key things is going to be who are the people in that user's network. So if none of their friends and family are already there, it's going to feel like a very empty space. There's a lot of transaction cost associated with recreating your social network in a new space. It's very time-consuming and that could be barrier for some people."
So no one will go there if there's no one there? "Sure, that's one of the problems with some of these sites. There are really strong network effects, meaning that the more people are there, the more valuable it is to you. It can be tricky at beginning when it's early adopters. That's one of the real strengths of Facebook, it's already established with literally millions of people."
Also in this program, the band R.E.M. broke up yesterday and news traveled like lightning across social media. But the news soon became coated, even drowned, in personal opinion. Is social media more of a news system or an opinion generating machine?