So I’ve been using Google’s new social network, Google+, for about a week now. And since everyone else on the internet seems to be spouting their opinions on it, I figure I’ll add to the conversation with my opinions.
First of all, you might be wondering, “What the heck is Google+?” Well, the easiest way I’ve found to explain it to non-techies is that it’s sort of like Facebook, but different. (Here’s a quick infographic that is not 100% accurate, but is close enough, to describe the difference between the two platforms.) It’s a means to share thoughts, photos, links, etc. with family and friends. It’s also still in a beta version, with limited openings to join. They keep opening invitations and then shutting them down again so they can manage the growth of the system. They also keep changing little things as they get feedback from their limited band of users – apparently they’re very open to feedback right now. So here are some of my thoughts on Google+ and its features.
- Circles: Circles are a way that Google+ has devised of organizing your contacts. There are a few pre-established circles – things like Friends, Family, Acquaintances, etc. – and you can create your own circles as well. Every time you post something, you can very easily control who has access to see it. You can share with just one circle, or several, or all of your circles, or extended circles (all of your circles’ circles), or the public, and one person can be in as many circles as you want to put them in (and they don’t know where you’ve put them – Google+ just tells them that you added them to a circle, not what circles you added them to). For example, I created a circle for my contacts who live in my area. So if I have a question about a place to go eat in town, or the best place to picnic, or something like that, I can ask that question just of people in my area without bothering my friends across the country. Or if I have some personal information or photos that I want to share with friends and family but not acquaintances or clients, I can do that. Facebook can do this as well, through the use of their lists feature, but the lists are much more cumbersome to manage. Google+ integrates this very easily and intuitively.
- Sparks: This is sort of a recommendations page. You put in your interests and it recommends recent links and such on those interests. I guess this might be entertaining when you’re bored and looking to read some things you’re interested in, or looking for blogs to add to your RSS reader, but generally speaking, I think this is kind of blah. A little toy rather than a major feature.
- Hangouts and chats: Hangouts are kind of a group video chat feature, from what I can tell – I haven’t participated in one, so I’m not entirely sure how they work exactly, but that’s what I understand. And chat is…well, it’s a chat feature. Maybe integrated with the existing Google chat? I’m not sure. Like I said, I haven’t used these much, and Facebook does have comparable features (though I don’t think FB can do a group chat).
- +1: If you’ve searched on Google recently, you’ve probably noticed a colorful little +1 symbol next to the links in the search results. This is Google’s version of the Facebook Like button, and I imagine that very soon, you will see this all over the internet like you do with the Like button now. I don’t believe that, as of this moment, it appears in your feed when you +1 something. Instead, it appears on your Google profile under the +1’s tab. I imagine this might be something that changes to appear in your feed; that would make more sense that hiding it in a tab on someone’s profile.
- Integration: This is the one area where I think Google+ has a whole, whole lot of growing to do. And I imagine they are probably already working on some of these things, but since they don’t actually exist yet, I’m going to lay out the things I think they should be doing. For one thing, some of us like this idea so much because we already use Google services for almost everything: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Reader, etc. If I create a Google Calendar event, I should be able to invite people by sharing it with my Google+ circles and contacts. Google Groups should absolutely be integrated so that an invited group of people can share though thoughts and links and documents with a pre-specified group of people – it won’t be dependent on whether or not everyone in the group has the exact same list of people in their circle for that group. Share a document with a particular circle through Google Docs. Share a link to your Google+ feed directly from your Google Reader. All of these products should work interchangeably with one another, with Google+ as their center.
- Why it’s NOT Facebook: The Good: none of the stupid games and apps and quizzes; none of the ads (though I can imagine that might change since we know Google is not opposed to targeted advertising); better privacy terms and conditions (though some folks think “better” is still not good enough – there was a post about this on MSNBC earlier today, but now the link doesn’t work for some reason). The Bad: no business or organization profiles as of yet (though Google has indicated this will change); getting your friends and families to leave Facebook and come over to Google+, which I think is the biggest obstacle of all that Google has to face. It’s too similar to Facebook for people to want to belong to both, and if it’s not that different, a lot of non-techies are not going to be all that interested in switching without some kind of greater incentive.
I personally love how clean the Google+ interface is. I see the room for growth, and I see the major obstacle of getting people to switch over from Facebook. For now, I’ll be on both because I’m just that kind of nerd.