When Google+ first launched, it was keeping out more people than it was letting in. The site notoriously throttled early subscriptions, creating ample hype from users clamoring to get their hands on an account. Even after Google opened up registration, there were still some restrictions on who got to be a part of the site: there were no business pages, celebrity profiles were subjected to intense scrutiny, aliases were banned, and anyone under 18 was not allowed to join.
Google has relaxed its policies to a certain degree, and this will now mean that teens will be able to use the site… sort of. Now, those between the ages of 13 and 18 can use a more restrictive version of Google+. This means warnings before sharing content publicly, profile information is only shared to Circles, safeguards against strangers joining hangouts, and other protections to keep teens from interacting with anyone outside their Circles.
Part of the effect of Google+’s limited membership is its very different atmosphere from Facebook, a site that got its start with college-age users. It’s been more mature, more discriminating, and has policed content to keep the site’s dialogue and experience at a certain level (translation: nothing deemed offensive allowed). But Google is slowly caving and become a little less exclusive—admittedly because teenagers are a huge factor in fueling social sites.
“Teens and young adults are the most active Internet users on the planet,” Bradley Horowitz writes via G+. “And surprise, surprise: they’re also human beings who enjoy spending time with friends and family. Put these two things together and it’s clear that teens will increasingly connect online. Unfortunately, online sharing is still second-rate for this age group.”
Horowitz says that this demographic is getting the short end of the stick with their current applications, and that the lack of options and controls is what has led to unsafe over-sharing of their information. “With Google+, we want to help teens build meaningful connections online. We also want to provide features that foster safety alongside self-expression.”
Facebook has had plenty of well-documented issues with underaged users on its site, and Google+ is trying to learn from those mistakes with cautious, preemptive steps instead of by trial and error.
The Facebook Timeline and Open Graph changes have likely also had a two-fold affect. On one hand, Google+ needs to compete with this approach that is going to revolutionize consumer data and how it’s used for marketing and e-commerce purposes. And on the other, G+ should be taking advantage of the backlash: a recent survey claims that negative response to the Facebook changes could see teen users jumping ship.
This generation is an important one to tap. They are more ingrained in social networks than any other, growing up with these applications constantly at their disposal means they are more attached and more active. It’s a powerful group to leverage to marketers as well as one that can increase activity for Google+, an area it’s struggled with.