Embedded within my (rather scattered) web routine are the inevitable, all-too-frequent checks on Facebook and Google+. I visit the former far more frequently than the latter: partly because notifications are built in to a number of other Google products; mostly because the people I’m connected to on Google+ tend to share articles rather than thoughts. It’s only today that I thought to compare the two networks’ profile pages, though.
Google launched its current layout just this month, with many improvements to its UI and a profile layout which bears much more of a resemblance to Facebook’s Timeline. I commend both ‘sites for introducing a banner space, which really helps to personalise a profile where custom themes are never allowed. I’ve also publicly decried Facebook’s approach to Timeline, which forced me to delete my account and start a new one, for personal reasons. Despite the fact I still have to tidy my re-booted Timeline every other night, I am generally a fan, though. I only tidy as I prefer to keep timely stories on there, since I believe that Facebook’s layout does not lend itself well to my occasional, rambling thoughts and linked media.
Of the two social networks, I do find that I prefer Google+’s approach, and I’m now beginning to look upon Timeline as a missed opportunity. Certainly neither is a perfect service, but I begin to wonder why Facebook devotes so much on-screen space to the cover image (the horizontal banner), when very few people seem to have photographs worthy of putting in here. I have had to rely upon a raygun gothic-themed image, choosing to carry my business card branding through, because unlike a couple of my friends and most of the celebrities I follow, I do not have any professional portraits. Compare this with Google+, and it’s clear that the user’s square-format portrait takes precedent. It is as though Facebook expects each user to treat their Timeline as a page rather than a profile, and I wonder now if that was a good move.
My criticisms achieve very little, of course – I use these services at no financial cost, and my fellow users learn to work around anything which they too might consider to be a shortfall. With that having been said, I’m somehow confident that Google+ represents me better, particularly for not displaying my connections so prominently. Google profiles do include a small panel, just below the user’s portrait, which will show any mutual connections you (as the viewer) may have, but that is something I consider very relevant and reassuring to social networking. The fact I have gone to the effort of manually tagging 243 photos with locations (because Facebook still stubbornly refuses to read meta-data, even for dates) is considerably less relevant, to my eyes. I also mourn the photo bar of yore, in which Facebook would allow you to hide those photos in which you were tagged in, but might not want shown on your profile. Now, if I want to be tagged in photos of a fun night out, I have no choice but to allow them on to the top of the pile, under that ‘photos’ thumbnail. Google+ seem to have responded to this, and it offers an alternative to the horizontal ‘cover art’ bar, which comprises a series of photos of your choice, as below:
At the end of the day, it seems to me that Google+ has found a worthy niche, breaking away from Facebook by actually sticking to what its elder competitor used to do. Where Facebook channels its users into making profiles which look like corporate pages, Google+ have offered a design which puts the user themselves further forward, also giving them a little more control over how they appear. It may lack the vibrant activity which Facebook still enjoys, and I experience this in the fact I’ve never physically met any of the people who appear in my stream, but in many ways I feel it is now a more appropriate home for me as a person.
If only some social networking APIs – and more importantly, other people – would actually use the thing…