In all the excitement around Google+, I’ve tried to understand what it has to offer that existing social networks don’t. It seems fairly similar to Facebook, maybe with better options and interfaces for things like grouping friends and controlling who sees what. But it’s getting a lot of attention and everyone’s been begging for invites to try it out. Google is responding to feedback and there will surely be many changes to Google+ as well as to the competitors trying to keep up. But it has stormed past 10 million users already and it will definitely be a major player in the social networking wars, at least for now.
Anyway, today I realized one interesting thing about Google Plus: it may be the first social network that’s already integrated into an existing site (this is essentially why it could grow and acheive critical mass so fast). Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Quora, StumbleUpon, whatever – the site is the social network. But Google does a million things already. So what makes this really interesting?
Google Plus might be harder to block. Now a lot of companies are actively engaging in social media these days, and it’s even being claimed that none of the “top 100 companies to work for” block social media, but social media can still be a productivity drainer in the workplace and a lot of companies like to block the major social networks. Block facebook.com? Easy. But who’s going to block google.com? Employees may use the search engine for their everyday activites. Some companies may even promote the use of Google Docs within their business. No one’s going to block google.com!
Of course it’s not just companies that try to block social media. Schools and universities do too. How many students will flock to Google+ if they realize that they can interact freely there?
Ah, and what about governments? An uncensored Internet makes dictators uneasy. Egypt tried to block Twitter during the revolts this spring, so Google and Twitter actually rolled out a feature for voice tweeting from your phone! China has scuffled with Google even before the Arab Spring revolters were using social media. But if a ruler wants to block social media without the backlash risk of actually blocking Google itself, it may no longer be able to.
Now maybe you can just block the subdomain plus.google.com, assuming Google’s syntax is going to stay consistent, so maybe all Google+ has done is move a social network from the domain sphere to the subdomain sphere. Still, with all the integration going on among Google’s services, it’s more complicated than it used to be.
And in their quest for an open world, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google changes the URLs to work from google.com/plus to make it even harder to block. But maybe blocking ability isn’t on Google’s mind at all. We’ll just have to wait and see.