Last week I was one of the many received a Google+ account. I have been using it for the last couple of days and I must say that I am thoroughly impressed it seems like a very nice, slick interface. It really feels to me like moving from MySpace to Facebook felt back in the day. A much sleeker, more intuitive interface that is free from crud. Google+ has already passed the 10 million user mark, so it is definitely a hit.
Google+ introduced the concept of Circles. Circles allows you to categorize the type of relationship you have with the people you are connected to and is the driving force behind sharing in this social network. For instance, I have categories for friends and old college connections. While many of my connections are just in one circle, I have two people I met at college that are friends that I talk to every day placed into both circles. Whenever you upload a picture or video, or whenever you make a post or check in to a location Google asks you what circles you would like to share that information with. Think about how many people you’re connected to on Facebook that you see information on that you honestly don’t care about or need to be sharing info with? Yes, these things are technically possible with Facebook, but no one really uses them and most don’t even know they’re there. Additionally, using circles removes any fear you may have about connecting with a co-worker because you have very fine control over what you actually share with them.
Google+ also has something called Hangouts which can be summed up as simply “group video chat”. The fact that this is available today sucked the wind out of Facebook’s “awesome” announcement of one-on-one Skype video integration. I’ve tested this feature out and I must say that it is very good quality. The only thing I didn’t really like was that by default the video that you focus on takes up the entire width of the Hangouts window. Most people I know have older webcams that aren’t that high in quality, so you can really see the pixelation. Since you can easily change the focus of who you’re looking at it would be nice if you can set a fixed width on certain friends who cameras aren’t up to snuff since you might switch back and forth between two people where one has a great camera that can support a wide window, and the other might not look good there.
I have not yet tried out the Huddle feature, but this is supposed to be a super-fast group messaging feature. Another of Facebook’s “awesome” announcements that was included in Google+’s launch.
The Google+ Android mobile app just feels slick as heck. It allows you to check-in to locations which lets you connect with local businesses just like Google Places and Google Latitude allow. While I personally think Google needs to do a lot of work to improve on the local front (more on that in a future post), it’s good to see them thinking about it at launch. I have not yet tried the Google+ app for iOS so I cannot rate the experience there. From what I’ve heard it has a very different design, but the reaction I’ve seen has been positive.
The Negatives (or should we say Google- ?)
The most obvious draw back about an invite only service that just started up is that most people I know are not yet on it. Only having 5 people to share information with is not very social for this network. This is obviously going to change as time passes, but it for now it is a bit lonely. Facebook is trying really hard to keep people from leaving. They have updated their terms of service to ban Facebook Friend Exporter for Google Chrome, and Open-Xchange has been deactivated.
The next thing that I feel they need to improve upon is their attitude towards the business community. Currently Google+ does not work Google Apps users, but it is in the works. Since the service is not completely open to the world I can understand it, but it is annoying to me. When I got an account the first thing I tried to do was to send everyone in my company an invite and none of them received it. I had to ask for everyone’s gmail account. I later learned that it doesn’t have to be a gmail account, but it does have to be something besides a google apps account.
Similarly, the ability for businesses to create something like a Facebook Page and to extend Google+ with apps and games is a must for adoption. I am not a gamer, but that is why a lot of people user Facebook. Google+ needs its own farmville in order to really drive in users. Additionally, the business community is going to want to run their own ads like they can with Facebook.
This is just a pet peeve with me, I think their notification system is a bit too immediate. I use Trillian at home for chatting with Google services, and I have the Gmail notifier installed to inform me of new e-mails. I had Google+ open when I received my first chat reply ever and I received the message in Trillian, on the Google+ app, my Gmail notifier went off with a message of a new e-mail, and my Droid vibrated and played the notification noise. It was a bit of an overkill. I believe they have tweaked things slightly since then, but I occasionally get a couple of notifications that I don’t need.
All in all I am very happy with Google+. I think it is very good competition for Facebook. I hope to see more people on this service.