Google+ First Impressions
1 July 2011
Just a few short days ago, Google unveiled its own Facebook-killer social network, Google+. After several failed attempts with the likes of Google Wave and Google Buzz, they may finally have found their secret sauce in Google+. Of all their previous attempts, it looks most like Facebook, but has enough of its own flair and philosophy to stand on its own.
Where Google Gets it Right:
It's most distinguishing and celebrated feature is called "Circles." Simply put, Circles are collections of friends that allow you to filter both what you read and to whom you publish. This is really the genius behind Google+ and fixes the privacy complaints that have plagued Facebook since its original launch. To connect with friends, you add them to a Circle. From the get-go, you are sorting your friends by the content you wish to feed them. This is Facebook's fatal flaw: separating out desirable content from the undesirable is difficult, and it's a secret to most users. Facebook allows you to divide friends into groups, but the feature has been buried deeper and deeper since it was introduced, and now virtually impossible to find.
What's more, you don't have to be "accepted" by somebody to add them to your Circles. Granted, they can still withhold posts from you by privatizing them to their own Circles, but much like Twitter, you can follow whomever you want.
One thing you'll notice immediately when migrating over to Google+ from Facebook is its open and simplistic design. Facebook seems to become more crowded by the hour. Google+ feels light and liberating. Whether it will stay that way remains to be seen. Surely it won't be long before AdWords sneak their way in.
Another closely related nicety is Google+'s more responsive interface. They've included subtle animations, drag and drop interactivity and all-around slick style, which is frankly, uncharacteristic of Google, but a very welcome shift in philosophy. It's already started to trickle into their other web apps. Did you notice the new charcoal bar gleaming atop your other favorite Google-branded web haunts? Further, it's been designed to minimize page reloads. Immediate response from buttons and tabs is the result, rather than the inevitable, and often lengthy load times on Facebook.
Sparks is a clever feature that aggregates articles and video related to your interests. It basically saves a search string and feeds you with info related to that topic. It's a perfect way for Google to fuel conversation. What they haven't revealed is how those articles are filtered and delivered — an important question for content creators. There is strong evidence that it likely has something to do with the new +1 buttons that have appeared everywhere online overnight.
Lastly, Google+ also takes a new spin on a couple more traditional communication media. Google Video Chat is built in to Google+. This may breathe new life into the rather neglected service. Who knows, it may even give Skype a run for its money. Also, Huddle makes it possible to have conversations with groups of people — something Facebook users have been wishing for since the dawn of time.
A Few Gentle Complaints:
There seems to be some branding confusion surrounding the preferred spelling of the service. Google hasn't helped much here either. The logo and all of their documentation refers to it as Google+, but the URL for the service is plus.google.com. As a result, there is little consistency throughout news media with use of the moniker.
The Google+ user profile page is also clunky feeling in its design, and impersonal in its content. Rather than allowing for interests, beliefs and favorites, it allows little more than education background and places you've lived. Hooray. While it's true that Sparks allows you to curate your hobbies, they are not publicly visible. Your followers will only learn about you what you post in your feed, which over time gets buried deep in the catacombs.
Google+ is finally a social media triumph story for Google. It's no surprise they had shut down their invitation system after only 48 hours of air time due to over-demand. Zuckerberg's knees may well be a bit shaky at the sight of Google's newest weapon of mass data collection.