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January 28, 2012

Now Google Plus for Teenagers

When Google launched Google+ in June, 2010, it was for adults only. Now it’s open to anyone 13 or older.  The reason Google kept teens off the service at first is not because the social network was ever about what we euphemistically call “adult content,” but because Google wanted to take extra time to get it right before opening the doors to people under 18.  

After several months of testing, Google thinks it’s reached a good balance. In rolling out the teen welcome mat, Bradley Horowitz, Google’s Product VP for Google+ said, “We want to help teens build meaningful connections online. We also want to provide features that foster safety alongside self-expression. Today we’re doing both, for everyone who’s old enough for a Google Account (13+ in most countries).”

For the most part, teens’ experience on Google+ will be just like adults, but there are some special safeguards for users under 18. Google didn’t put any major breaks on teens — it’s giving them plenty of freedom to express themselves to their friends or even to the world, but it did make some of the default settings for teens more restrictive than for adults. If teens (or adults) decide to change them, they can, but how a service sets its defaults is very important. It’s a type of recommendation — the company’s way of saying “this is how we think most people should use our service,” and — besides — most people never get around to changing defaults.

Circular logic

Everyone on Google+ is encouraged to create circles where they group their friends and other contacts. You could have a circle of just family members, another circle of schoomates and another  circle of people on your soccer team. You can have as many circles as you want and you can call the circles whatever you want to call them. People in your circles are notified, but don’t know the name of the circle(s) you’ve put them in.  And it’s asyncronous. You can be one of my circles, but you don’t have to put me in any of yours. In that case, you’d see what I post to circles you’re in but I’d only see what you post to the public, unless you added me to one of your circles.

Circles work the same for teens as they do for adults, but there are some special safeguards consisting of warnings and different default settings.

Safeguards for teens

  1. If teens post something directed to extended circles or the public, they’ll get a warning reminding them that “when you share to your extended circles, people you haven’t added to your circles will be able to view your post and may be able to comment.”
  2. All  Google+ users can control “who can notify me.” For adults, the default is “anyone,” but for teens the default is people in their circles.
  3. By default, anyone can comment on an adult’s public posts,  but for teens it’s only people in their circles.
  4. There are also some differences in the profile defaults. Your profile is where others can see a bit about who you are and who you interact with on Google+.  By default, employment and Education can be seen by anyone (Public) if you’re an adult, but for teens, the default is “just your circles.”
  5. Some profile features are set to “only me,” including home contact info, work contact info and birth-date.
  6. By default, location information isn’t attached to teens’ posts
  7. Adults’ “Relationship Status” can be seen by people in their extended circles, but only in “your circles” for teens.
  8. In the hang-out feature,  up to 10 people can have a video chat. For teens if  someone outside any of their circles joins in, the teen is temporarily pulled out of the hangout and asked if they want to continue. It’ a way of pausing the action for a second and encouraging the teen to think about whether he or she wants to remain in this hangout.

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