Welcome to Google+ Town, Population Just Hit 20M

Deed: One apartment in Google+ land.
Price: Your real name, email, data, and friend list in categories, please.

“Google doesn’t get social” was the theme of the past few years — a technology business so algorithm-focused, it could not possibly understand the mindset of the “social” consumer. Google+ now challenges that basic premise and begs the question: Is it possible that one company that has been so superior at search, so relentless to dominate video, so focused on performance advertising — can also be good at social?

To understand Google+, we first need to recognize the term social networking as a completely inaccurate representation of what these products are. A digital city is a better illustration. If the Internet represented a planet, the browser a continent, then social networks are cities. These are virtual locations where you have “residence.” It’s where you spend time and money and can find friends and businesses.

Let’s explore what it means to move into Google+ and what historically difficult social problems it is trying to solve.

Welcome to your new hometown, Google+

Google+ is a new digital city. I have apartments in Facebook, Myspace and Twitter — and I just leased a new apartment in Google. I moved my photos there and created a new address book for my friends in this city. Now, I am spending less time in my other apartments.

The nice thing about my home on Google+ is that it is not surrounded by old friends and acquaintances like my other residences. I don’t have 2,000 people knocking on my door — people whom I lost interest in keeping in touch with a long time ago.

The other nice thing is that moving is actually not that tough. Yes, my last landlord blocked me from taking my address book, and in certain cases I had to rip my pictures that hung on the wall. It was a bit painful but the move got done.

My new town of Google+ with Mayor Bradley Horowitz has similar rules as the other towns. I have to keep my walls white, I need to use my real name and it doesn’t allow illicit activities. I do have to categorize all my friends, which takes a little time. There are a lot of smart people in Google+ Town, so I have to watch what I say. There are no arcades and I can’t buy anything there yet, but I am sure these will come. I can check into my news on their Sparks newsstand. And if I want to meet people right now I can open my own “hangout” and invite people.

When I go back to Myspace, I can of course decorate my room more, listen to music, and, frankly, talk about what I want — and I don’t have to use my real name. And on Facebook, I have more friends and family there right now and I like the city Zarcade.

But the new Google+ Town has a lot of great amenities that are attracting my attention:

Circles: Preventing Social Graph Overgrowth

Social graphs tire over time, you end up with too many friends. Through categorization, Google believes it can make your stream more accurate and relevant and maybe help you determine grouping for other services, like email or document sharing.

This also helps you feel comfortable sharing, which is probably the most important consequence of grouping your friends. I can now be 100 percent certain that the photo from last night goes to friends and not family members or colleagues.

Friends versus Followers — Why Not Both?

With Twitter, we have asynchronous friendships in that someone can follow us but we don’t need to follow them. Facebook and Myspace have synchronous friendships. Google+ allows both. Facebook also addresses this with their Pages product, where you can have asynchronous relationships.

It is all the social benefit of touting how big your follow base is on Google+, without any of the stream clutter of forcing everyone to be friended together.

Free News Now! Sparks Integration as the Future of News

Although Sparks feels raw today, it seems to be positioned as the next way for people to consume news. It’s a topical feed-based system that lives on your Google+ homepage and allows you to track any topics you are interested in and quickly consume snapshots of those topics without visiting the full article.

With Google+, Google has shown it can build a social product platform, but now can it build a community?

I was at a party the other night and someone was telling me about prebuilt cities in China — completely vacant, fully built cities that are just waiting for a population to settle there. Google has built its city, it has initial inhabitants, the basic infrastructure is sound and everything looks fine. Now the question is: Will you homestead there? Are its laws better than the laws of your old city? Do you like its amenities? Can it feel like your home?

Right now, I’m keeping all my apartments, but it will be interesting to see where I decide to spend my weekdays versus weekends, my work versus home time, which apartment I visit today, which city I invest more in over time. Maybe all of them … and now that I’ve moved once, it wouldn’t be hard to move again. But I believe Google+ Town has a fighting chance and I am eager to see its growth.

Mike Jones is an Internet executive, investor and advisor located in Los Angeles. A longtime entrepreneur, Mike founded his first successful Internet company in college and since then has founded, built and sold numerous online and mobile businesses. Most recently, he served as the CEO of Myspace.

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