Google+: A Search Engine Play or a True Social Network?

Google+, Google’s answer to social media behemoth Facebook, is projected to have 400 million users by the end of 2012. As the social network grows in popularity, many privacy advocates wonder just how much Google plans to mine the network for search engine purposes.

Google+ as Social Network

Google+ received a major overhaul at the end of April 2012, adding a navigation pane at the left of the primary dashboard. To get started, users create a profile on Google+ and then organize friends and contacts into Circles. Unlike Facebook, which only has limited quantities of names and groups, Google+ allows you to organize contacts into a variety of Circles and to name the Circles as you wish. When you make a post to Google+, you can choose which Circles will be able to see your post.

Google+ as Big Brother?

Google set off a firestorm of criticism when it deployed Search Plus Your World, which added Google+ results to Google search engine results. The controversy arose from the belief that people who are Google+ members do not necessarily want their personal information to show up in a search. While users have to be logged into Google to see social results in searches and while only friends will see personal items like photos, many people still feel uncomfortable with Google’s reach into their social networking profiles, particularly since users are often logged into Google through their email accounts for long periods of time without even remembering they are.

Google+ and Antitrust Law

In some ways, Google+ compares favorably to Facebook as a social networking option. Google+ gives its users the opportunity to post videos and photographs and contains some minor photo editing features. With Circles, businesses can utilize segmented sharing to ensure that the right customers get the right messages. Both Facebook and Google+ offer highly useful analytics for social media traffic and both offer video chat options, but the Google Hangout leverages Google Apps to allow people to collaborate over documents in real time.

Overall, Google+ is arguably a good alternative to Facebook since it caters to certain user preferences that may not be answered by Facebook. As it grows in popularity, companies will surely end up having to incorporate Google+ into their social media strategies. It’s a valid social network, but it’s also a search tool designed to increase Google’s dominance in the marketplace.

When Google starts preferring its own social networks to more comprehensive Facebook and Twitter profiles, that’s when people may really start to question its efforts. For now though, we’re happy to watch the evolution of Google+, as well as other popular new social networks like Pinterest.