(Guest post by Maria Rainier who blogs about education and online degrees)

Google+ may not yet possess the charms necessary to attract the hundreds of millions of users boasted by its competitors, but it still has strong features to woo users who give the service a chance. As a social networking service, Google+ strikes an ideal balance between casual and professional styles, giving the user potential to grow their contact list through social networking or the sharing of interest-based information among similar users. Google+ already attracted over 50 million users, yet it has some of the most outspoken detractors of any social media service.
Why is Google+ such a divisive entity? In my opinion, it comes down to user loyalties among the well-established social networks: some people enjoy Facebook and Twitter for what they have to offer and others want something different. I’d like to briefly explore the pros and cons of using Google+ based upon three criteria pivotal to all social networking services: content, design, and privacy.
The content on Google+ is largely generated by users sharing their information because they’re eager to share the information with their friends. Because Google+ has such a small active user base relative to other social networks, the users on Google+ have to extend extra effort to search out contacts with similar interests. Unlike on sites like Facebook, you won’t be slammed with a barrage of content from thousands of users to sift from. Due to Google+’s optimal filtration systems, you might not have much activity at all on your stream (similar to a Wall or Newsfeed feature) when you first set up your Google+ profile.
People evaluating Google+ can choose to view this from a positive or negative perspective. On the one hand, the small user base presents an ideal setting for users to found new organizations, networks, and contacts among like-minded people looking to make meaningful connections. On the other hand, people might be turned off by the effort they must put into searching for and cultivating a rewarding contact pool. Google+ tries to ease the burden of searching for new contacts by transferring contacts from other Google services (Gmail and Google Reader, among others) to your contact lists, but if users will have to put time into searching for users outside of their sphere of familiarity.
Fans of Google+ will likely point to its gorgeous design as one of its best selling points, and for good reason. When put side to side other websites, social media or otherwise, people will notice Google+’s refreshingly clean interface, free of spammy advertisements and product plugs from random vendors. The interface itself is surprisingly user-friendly as well, enabling the user to toggle between the sites many functions with ease. You can view updates in your stream, manage the organization of your contacts through the circle feature, browse what’s the latest buzz in the blogosphere, or just browse the web, showing your friends the content you like with the “+1” button.
On the downside, people fresh to the social networking scene could be easily overwhelmed by Google+’s wide array of features. Google+ works best for people already seasoned in social media usage who know what to expect from any similar service. Even with the sleek design, Google+ could turn off many new users who want simplicity over variety.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of Google+ is its take on user identity. Google+ users are required to give their full names in order to start a profile, and more importantly this information will be displayed for all other Google+ users to see. Of course Google+ users enjoy comprehensive privacy strictures that prevent non Google+ users from seeing their profiles at all, should they choose to hide them from public view. The main issue with the full name requirement rests with social media users who wish (or need) to remain anonymous in order to post content online. For instance, say that a progressive social policy blogger has a day job in a politically conservative work environment. In order to keep their job, the blogger writes their work under a pseudonym. That blogger wouldn’t be able to realize the potential of Google+ without revealing their name, and thus exposing their identity to those who could act against them for their beliefs. It’s a strong argument against the policy, but in the end Google contends that it will create a space for more open, honest, and personable connections between users.
Author Bio:
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, online degrees etc. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.