Facebook minus

It’s only been a few weeks since Google launched Google+, but the new social-networking platform already boasts more than 10 million users—and quite a bit of buzz.

In this case, luckily for the search-engine behemoth, “buzz” means positive word-of-mouth feedback—not privacy-challenged epic fail.

In fact, even though membership in the site is still invite-only (although it’s relatively easy to wrangle one), last week Google CEO Larry Page announced that the company had seen “over 1 billion items shared and received in a single day.”

Pretty impressive.

Still, one can’t help but wonder: Do we really need yet another social-networking site?

Especially one that just feels like Facebook minus?

Of course, that’s why some users like it. So far fewer people (at least compared to Facebook’s estimated 750 million active users) means fewer posts, which, in a sense, means fewer rants, fewer meal updates and fewer photo albums devoted to your best frenemy’s total jealousy-inducing vacation.

Structurally, Google+ isn’t really inventing the social-networking hub. In fact, it looks a lot like Facebook. There’s a “wall” for posts as well as the corresponding ability to comment on said posts. Instead of “liking” someone’s post, however, users “+1” it.

As with Facebook and Twitter you can also share comments, posts, links and videos. Google+ also offers chat and video chat “hangouts” as well as something called “spark” which, apparently, is a way to browse other people’s public updates.

Like Facebook, Google+ is built upon an ever-expanding network of friends; here, however, friends can be split off into “circles” (friends, family, acquaintances, following)—handy if you want to post an update that’s visible to one group of people but not another.

(Which makes me wonder why there’s not a “work” circle—the easier to filter out those “I’m too hung over to function” posts. I’ll bet Mark Zuckerberg would’ve totally been all over that. But, you know, whatever.)

So far the Google+ reviews have been largely positive.

The New York Times raved about those circles, calling them a “brilliant” way to skirt Facebook’s high-profile privacy flaws.

Likewise, Wired magazine declared it a “Twitter/Facebook hybrid that allows more control and looks great.”

Still, another Wired writer observed that the service is, essentially, “the new GeoCities”—not because it’s already hopelessly outdated and passé, but because it feeds into our collective “herding instinct.”

In other words, we’ll use Google+ for the same reasons we signed up for Facebook—all our friends are doing it.

“We move from GeoCities to LiveJournal to MySpace to Facebook, looking for the perfect experiment in mass intimacy,” the reviewer wrote. “We want to be part of the in-crowd without having to be part of the crowd.”

In that sense, perhaps, Google+ is a little more inclusive when it comes to the Internet as a whole. Here, your social network isn’t limited to the people you know (or kind of sort of know); it’s open to just about anyone. As on Twitter, you can follow (or be followed by) people you don’t know.

That’s both the fun and the problem. In a year or two, we’ll all be complaining about how Google+ is too crowded, inundated with meaningless status updates, stupid food photos and endless links to cute kitten videos.

But in the meantime, we enjoy the peace, cruising through a social hub that is still relatively quiet—almost too quiet—as users tentatively migrate between it and Facebook.

“Here’s another site I’ll join and forget about,” one user commented shortly after signing up.

When it comes to the social-networking universe, it seems, even a plus just might not be enough.