Katherine Boehret

E-Invites to the Social Network Events of 2012

Invitations have come a long way since the days of paper cards and phone RSVPs. Their digital incarnations range from Evites to eye-catching Paperless Posts to apps that run on smartphones. When Facebook got in on the party, it started letting its users organize events by inviting one another.

Over the summer, Google announced that it, too, was jumping into the digital invitation space with the addition of Events to its Google+ social network. Google+ Events offers handsome stationery with picturesque still and animated images. It also has a cool way of integrating with Android phones: A Party Mode lets guests share all the photos they take during the party with other guests.

But some people may not be ready to use social networks for event invitations. Facebook Events can only be sent to other Facebook users, and while Google+ Events can be sent to anyone via email, they only offer non-Google+ users a passive view of the event page. Events in social networks make people nervous they’ll accidentally broadcast their agendas to 400 “friends” by responding to an invitation or get caught lying about their whereabouts. And hosts may worry their event might not stand out in a busy social network.

For the past week, I’ve planned events in Google+ Events and Facebook Events to see what each offers in the way of privacy, host privileges, photo-uploading capabilities and ease of use. I’ve asked friends for feedback and it turns out most people aren’t completely sure of the privacy settings in either network.

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The biggest challenge I faced with Google+ Events is that hardly any of my friends use Google’s social network on a regular basis, if at all, and several of them had trouble responding to my event. And these are tech-savvy people who regularly use other social networks. Another point of confusion: Google+ has a feature that lets a reply to an email containing something shared from the network instantly appear in Google+. This also applies to events, so when two of my friends hit “reply” to my event’s email invitation, their responses appeared on the wall of the Google+ Event page, for all invitees to see. But they weren’t counted as attending if they hadn’t opened the invitation and selected “Yes,” “Maybe” or “No.”

Though both Facebook and Google+ offer the option to make your event public (think school bake sale), they also offer varying degrees of privacy. Facebook Events can be set as public or only visible to friends, those invited or specific Facebook groups. Google+ Events can be public or shared only with those who are invited, which can mean individual names of friends or entire Circles (groups) of people. Google+ also offers On Air Events, which means they are publicly viewable to anyone online who uses the network, but only invited guests can RSVP, comment and add photos.

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Unlike Evite, neither Facebook Events nor Google+ Events allows a host to see when someone has viewed an event invitation; rather, the host is only notified when a guest RSVPs or adds something—like a photo or comment—on the event Web page.

Both social networks let guests post photos on the event page. If the event is public, photos will be visible to all who view it, but photos posted in private events are only visible to invitees. Hosts can delete a photo that they don’t want on an event page. On Facebook, attendees can click a gear icon in the top right corner of the page to see a drop-down menu, selecting Add Event Photo. In Google+ Events, people can tap Add Photo in the top right of the page.

With the Google+ Events Party Mode, which only works on smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system, guests can upload photos to the event page as they take them during the event. It worked as advertised, stopping right when the party ended. After an event, people can look at these photos and sort them according to who took the photos or who was tagged in photos.

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Using Facebook, you can export friends’ birthdays or coming events to Apple’s iCal, Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. To export a single event, click on the gear icon at the top right corner of the event page. And a helpful new month view in Facebook Events gives people a clearer way to see coming or past events. (Find this by selecting Events in the top left corner of Facebook.com and select Calendar.)

Google+ Events are added to Google Calendar after you RSVP and appear when you hover over that day on the calendar, showing the event page image and other details.

Facebook does not send reminders to guests before the event, like Evite does, though guests can be notified when hosts post on the event wall or page. Google+ does add a reminder 24 hours before events.

These social networks can be a confusing environment for creating events and RSVP-ing to them, and Google+ Events may still be baffling to friends who don’t use it. At least for the time being, I’ll keep trying to get my friends to use Google+ Events in hopes that they catch on.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com


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