Attorneys, save for a small cadre of early adopters, are typically slow to adapt to new technology and social medial utilities. Accordingly, it may be some time before many practicing attorneys make their way to – or even hear of – Google+ (although invites are already being called “the hottest ticket in law firm marketing”). You may have seen some of the buzz regarding Google+, and perhaps you were initially dismissive in light of the complexities and/or confusing qualities of Google’s other recent social media platforms, such as Google Wave or Google Buzz (which turned out to be quite a dud). However, Google+ is the search engine giant’s attempt to compete directly with Facebook by establishing its own social network, but it’s also more than that. Already, a number of attorneys – mainly those interested in legal technology, social media, or the next big thing – have migrated to Google+, turning it into both an interesting place for the discussion of legal technology and an echo chamber of sorts. In fact, the biggest challenge at this point seems to be convincing potential users to migrate to yet another social media platform.
If you use Facebook, Google+ will seem familiar to you, although it appears to be a bit less aesthetically busy. The chief difference between Facebook and Google+ is that Google+ starts with the assumption that users have different sets of friends with whom the user will want to share different pieces of information. In essence, it acknowledges that most true of truisms: we all live in many separate worlds, and we don’t like for those worlds to collide. From the very moment you join, you can separate your work friends from your college buddies and so forth.
Google+ does this by establishing what it calls “circles,” user groups to which you must assign those with whom you wish to connect using the site. For example, you can establish a circle called “family” and assign relatives to that circle. Similarly, you can create circles centered around interests groups such as law, technology, or even music or sports. (You can even create a circle for those that you wish to mainly ignore.). When you elect to post something to Google+, you must decide which circle to which you will send the post. Accordingly, a post sent to one’s sports or family circle will not be published to any other circles. Users can of course send a single post to multiple circles, one circle in particular, or even one user in particular. How does this affect attorneys? Well, for one, it allows us to more easily discuss the law and legal issues on their social networking profile without pestering those who are not interested in that subject matter. Those of us who use social media realize that there are many different “friends” with whom we have connected who may not wish to learn about the latest legal issue. One can create a circle called “law” and share legal issues only with that circle and spare one’s remaining friends from any such discussion. This may be easier than maintaining separate personal and professional profiles.
How does this differ from Facebook (which, as you know, we here at Abnormal Use recently joined ourselves)? Well, Facebook allows one to create different groups and control the level of information that is shared with those particular groups. However, Facebook did not start with that ability as a core function. When one becomes friends with another on Facebook, by default, that friend can see all of your information unless you adjust to private settings or assign that user to a particular group that limits the profile information that can be seen. Further, if you’ve already accumulated hundreds and hundreds of Facebook friends, you’ll need to create certain privacy settings and add each friend individually to each desired privacy setting. That could become quite a hassle. With Google+, when you confirm a connection with another user, you must assign that user to a particular circle or circles as part of the connection process. It’s easier, in part, simply because Google+ is new. However, Google+ seems to have been designed to ameliorate the “worlds colliding” dilemma, while Facebook has had to retcon itself to address that concern.
As we noted above, the biggest challenge for Google+ is for people – many of whom use multiple social networking utilities – to bring Google+ into the routine. We’re currently struggling with that, as we already use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but the (relatively) new Google+ iPhone app may make that a far easier task. In sum, Google+ is worth investigating.