Google Plus is now welcoming an entirely new teen audience with its recent lowering of its age restriction from 18 to 13. When it initially launched in June of 2010 it was an only 18 and over service during the initial beta stage until they were able to tailor a new teen-centric version of the defaults and content sharing functions. It’s basically the same exact service that’s available for adults, with just a few minor changes to the default settings for sharing and privacy options.
The defaults for teens protect more of their privacy online and give them more options as far as controlling who they share content with. The main sharing portion of Google Plus is within its Circles feature, and a teen’s profile is more restrictive on sharing content outside of their Circles. The same goes with a teen’s posts; only people within their circle can comment on their posts, but for adults anyone who can see their posts is able to comment. Another interesting aspect which has proven to be one of the most popular parts of Google Plus is their Hang-Out Video Conferencing feature; the only difference for a teen’s default is when someone from outside their Circle joins the Video Conference, it pauses their feed and asks them if they want to continue the conversation.
It’s definitely commendable of Google to put these few but important safeguards in place to make teens feel like they have more control over their Google Plus content, and of course parents always benefit from any extra online safety measures. The important thing also to remember is these are only differences in the basic defaults of the service, which can be changed at any time to resemble the conventional settings for those who are 18 and over. Defaults exist more as guidelines for how a company thinks a service best works for certain users, and more often then not, people tend to stick with whatever the original settings are. Another interesting aspect of Google Plus is how Google intends it to be utilized by the teen audience. They want it to be more of an extension of their real life, instead of a venue for them to create a persona or misrepresent themselves, which is often what happens with more freeform Social Media like Facebook.
What will be interesting to see in the future is if the proportion of teens embracing Google Plus will rival the enormous market share Facebook currently has in younger demographics. There are definitely features available on Google Plus that Facebook lacks, especially the popular Hang-Out Video Conferencing feature, which Facebook users usually leave the service for to utilize in Tinychat rooms for video socializing and even curated online DJ nights. Google Plus definitely offers a structure and features that teens will find as an interesting contrast to Facebook, and with their specifically tailored defaults and sharing options, it may eventually become a solid competitor for the massive Social Media teen market share.
This is a great article from the Huffington Post that outlines the Google Plus rollout for the teen market.