It’s been almost a week since Google+ released, and I thought I would take a shot at reviewing Google’s latest attempt in the social networking space. Traditionally, the social sphere has not been Google’s strong point – Wave failed, and Buzz failed to take off in a big way. Happily, Google+ looks set to hang around for a while.
For those who have been hiding under a rock, Google+ is a social networking website from, well, Google. The big difference with Facebook is Circles, which are groups of people you share information with. Circles is aimed at mimicking how we communicate in real life, with your inner circle of friends, and outer circles of acquaintances, and people you don’t really know, but “follow” on the internet. People can be in multiple circles at the same time, and you can share information with only certain circles. Google throws in group video chat for circles called “Hangout”, and group messaging for circles called “Huddle”.
There have been other blog posts which talk about various Google+ features, and how to use them. Assuming you know all about Google+, lets talk about what is good and bad about Google+. Keep in mind that this is all from my very subjective viewpoint of using Google+ for only a week, and that it will inevitably improve over time.
- Circles – This is by far the best feature of Google+. Selective communication has never been easier – You can share a video or a link with your small circle of people with a click. Arguably, you could do the same thing with groups in GMail, but this is much more hassle free, and more fun. I can see this completely replacing threads as the mechanism for group interaction.
- Black Bar – This represents integration across all Google properties – whether you are in GMail or Reader, the black bar at the top will keep you appraised of what is happening in the social world. What is incredible about this is that when you click on the notifications icon, you can immediately see in the drop down who commented on what post, and even more astonishingly, you can reply back without leaving GMail. This totally does away with the need to open a new window for conversation.
- Chat with circles – I recently discovered how powerful this was when talking with a friend about wanting to chat at work, but not appear “Busy” – that line between inviting pings and limiting “what’cha doing” messages. You can add people you would like to talk to, to a circle, and appear visible to only that circle. Problem solved!
- Hangout – While I have my doubts about the philosophy behind Hangouts – you start a video stream, and people just drop in – I love that I can now group video chat with my friends on any operating system and any browser, with no need for additional software. A group of my friends were recently debating how to do this, and compatibility issues caused the video chat to not happen. With Hangout, compatibility is a non-issue!
- A clean slate – This is not really a feature, but simply due to the fact that Google+ is new. Facebook has now become the place where everyone is friends with everyone, and you get deluged with all sorts of meaningless information that you didn’t really want in the first place. This has got something to do with the fact that we were new to social networks when Facebook came along, and so we happily indulged ourselves, going out and befriending everyone out there. Google+, with one-way circles, offers the chance to refine your social networks without hurting people’s feelings. Remember that someone adding you to their circle is not a friend request, and you are not obligated to add them to any circles.
Stuff that needs to improve:
- The invite interface – This caused quite a lot of confusion when Google+ released. “Does adding people to a circle invite them? Why isn’t there a box where I can enter a name and invite people?” These were some of the natural questions that arose. I’m sure Google is planning on correcting this pretty soon.
- Connectivity and Integration – The invite stuff is critical, but long-term this is the one thing that Google has to nail. I’m used to going to pretty much any website and being able to “Like” an article or “Share on Facebook” a video. Just +1ing content does not feel the same – There must be an explicit interface to quickly share content on Google+. I understand that this will take time though – Facebook platform took a number of years to develop and deploy on major websites.
- Photo Albums – This is quite terrible. I understand this was low priority for the beta release, but many obvious features are missing – The familiar Like button, rearranging pics in an album, +1ing comments on the photo album interface.
- Sparks – This is well-meaning but poorly implemented – Ideally, this should be integrated into your stream, as a bot friend or something, the way celebrity pages are integrated into the Wall in Facebook. The contents currently in my sparks stream are a long way from interesting, but perhaps this will improve as Google+ evolves.
- Search – This was something I’ve wanted for a long long time in Facebook, and I was quite shocked that Google has not introduced the ability to search the stream content. Maybe it’s in there somewhere, but I have not been able to get to it easily so far.
- Huddle – Can’t really review this, except to say it’s not available on the iPhone yet. Epic fail, given that a sizeable segment of the target population uses iPhones. If this was due to Apple intentionally delaying the Google+ app for the iPhone, well, score one for Apple, because it worked.
So that’s it for the Google+ review – It’s good, and it’s gonna get better. For all the people who are figuring out ways to import your entire list of Facebook contacts over to Google+, I have this to say: please don’t.