I'm not the most tech-savvy person in the world, but if there's one thing I hate, it's to be left out.
So when an invitation for Google+ arrives in my inbox, I accept it, even though I wonder if this "invitation" really represents some sort of exclusive privilege. I'm still not convinced. It reminds me a little of when a representative from Barbizon announced to me and a group of gangly 14-year-old friends that we'd been selected to sign up for a $2,000 modeling school … along with every other awkward teenager at the mall that day.
Thankfully, unlike Barbizon, Google+ is free. After a couple of clicks of the mouse, I'm prompted to assign my contacts to my own personal social hierarchy: "friends," "acquaintances," "following" and "family." Easy enough. My favorite homemade headshot (Oh, this old thing? I just snapped it with my webcam — after 12 tries) becomes my profile picture, and I e-exhale: I won't be left behind. I'm in, and pretty early, too.
I joined Google+ not because I need a new way to connect with people through my laptop — I'm a longtime Facebook addict and prolific G-chatter, and I'm more than satisfied (read: way too distracted) by those two outlets. Rather, I'm determined to avoid another late-joining, uneasy relationship like the one I have with Twitter (more on that later).
And if the Internet behemoth's new social networking platform — billed as some cross between Twitter and Facebook — is going to catch on, I want to be there to watch it happen. Still in its beginning stages, Google+ is obviously not mainstream yet. But enough people are on it that the curious can get a good idea of what it's all about. Here's what I discovered.
It's All Men
Or just about. A friend's Facebook status warns even before I join: "Google says that Google+ is 86 percent male. Proud to be a part of the World's Biggest Sausage Party."
My small (OK, minuscule) network bears out this characterization. My feed is dominated by the posts of a male, technology-loving friend who is almost as interested in this new service as he is in passionate debates about all things smartphone-related. Then there is a slew from a talented writer friend whom I recently hid on Facebook after concluding that the brutally honest single man's perspective of his dating blog was harmful to my psyche.
Female friends (and acquaintances and family members) are either absent or relatively quiet. The good news is that Dating Blogger actually turns out to have a lot to talk about on Google+ that's unrelated to the seedy side of bachelorhood, and Tech Enthusiast Guy offers to assist with any questions.
The experts say that women are waiting to see whether it's worth it before they join. My jury is still out.
It's Easy Enough
Nothing makes you feel more like your parents than trying something new online. After I prodded my mom to join Facebook, she added "LOL" to every comment she posted, thinking it meant "lots of love," including condolences on sad news. (Think: "I'm so sorry your father is sick. He's a wonderful man. LOL") And my father still texts in all caps, with greetings ("DEAR JENEE") and salutations ("ALL MY BEST"), as if the texts are business letters.
I'm 20 years too young for these types of issues and take care to avoid them, but it's pretty hard to mess up anything with Google+. I decide to take the risk that I'll make some egregious error and post, from the Starbucks at Howard University, "Here I am. What's this all about? Ooh, the first post on any new thing is always so lame." Just for the hell of it, I agree to add my location. Next post: "I'm supposed to be writing a review of this — someone do something." No response, but no public humiliation, either.
Plus, before Tech Enthusiast Guy even has a chance to respond, I find I'm able to answer most of my own questions. Is there an equivalent to Facebook's "like" feature ? Yes, the +1 button. Are you supposed to put your friends in the "following" category if you want to follow what they say? No; following is for people you don't know. I've decided that I'll apply the same philosophy to Google+ that guides my answer to questions about whether I can cook: If you can read, you can do anything.
It's Multiple Personality-Friendly
Google+ solves a major problem I have with Twitter: There are things I want to say to the whole world, and things I want to say to my actual friends, and they pretty much never overlap. I keep my profile public with the idea that I'll share my writing, but I don't want strangers to hear all my snarky remarks. So I read my timeline and then retreat to Facebook, the cozy land of airtight privacy settings (despite the fact that I've read — on Twitter, of course — that leaving Twitter for Facebook is like leaving the bar to go home). There's no such audience problem with Google+.
Instead of saying, "I'm going to write a blog post now," or "I'm going to send an email" or "I think I'll tweet something," you simply say what you have to say, then decide who you're going to say it to.
If you address it to "Public," it's a blog post.
If you address it to "Your Circles," it's a tweet.
If you address it to your "My Customers" Circle, it's a business newsletter.
If you address it to a single person, it can be a letter to your mother.
I'd say this is pretty revolutionary.
I hesitate to call it "revolutionary" after this year's actual revolutionary events in the Middle East, but it makes a lot of sense.
It's Also Stalker-Friendly
No more so than any of the other tools already at our disposal, but stalker-friendly nonetheless. For example, I'm following the founder of the blog Racialicious (remember, "following" is for people who have interesting things to say but who you don't know at all). When she posts her location and it happens to be two coffee shops down the street from where I'm working, I ever-so-briefly consider popping by to say a quick "Hi, I'm Jenée and I love your work." I restrain myself because I'm not crazy. But if I were, Google+ would be my friend.
Still, with the options to share thoughts, photos and videos, Google+ offers a wealth of information about users who choose to make these things public. The type of person who searches online for images before first dates, Facebook-stalks exes and fall in love with strangers based on their Twitter timelines will find some additional tools at their disposal here.
It's Not Overwhelming
The most common refrain I hear from friends who haven't yet accepted their invitations yet is, "But what is it?! I don't want to have something else I have to do online." Being a person who's fine with having thousands of messages in my inbox and getting a notification every time someone mentions me on Facebook or Twitter, I don't relate.
But even those who feel truly put upon by membership in social networks should be relatively comfortable with Google+. Sure, it's one more thing. But it sits there pretty innocently at the top of your toolbar, with a number next to your name that patiently informs you of how many things have transpired since you last logged in. It hasn't made any unreasonable demands of my time since I joined, and I don't expect that it will.
It's Not At All Addictive … Yet
No one has responded or +1'd the article I shared about how Maxwell's going to be in a movie. No one's invited me to a hangout (video chat). In these early stages of my membership, there's just not a whole lot going on. Google+ definitely hasn't made it to my "check as soon as I open my eyes in the morning" list. But if it does take off, at least I'll be able to say I was there. I wasn't left out. And really, isn't that what this is all about?
Jenée Desmond-Harris is a contributing editor at The Root.