What is it?
Google+ is Google’s answer to Facebook/Twitter. Now, typically I would compare it to one or the other, but the truth is, it’s a competitor to both because it has features of both networks. You have the public aspects and the ability to follow without being a friend, and then you have the privacy and intimacy of keeping certain updates between you and your real friends. So, it actually is very much a competitor to both services.
How is it different?
Well, if the two major networks had a love-child, for the most part, it would be Google+. Not completely, mind you, but for the overall concept, it is definitely a mixture of the two. You have the publicity and the ability to follow famous people that Twitter has, but you can use something called “Circles” to create friend groups to keep things private, and even share specific posts with only a subset of your friends. So if there is a certain group of friends that are interested in tech, like me, then you could create a circle of friends called tech folk and share technical articles with them, because other people will just glaze over when they see the words Linux or PHP in something. It also separates your news stream into these circles. So if you want to look at only your family’s updates, then you can click on your family’s circle and it will show that group only.
It’s also got a skype or webex competitor feature called Hangouts. Hangouts are a group video chat. You can either create a public hangout, where you turn on your webcam and tell anyone who wants to come and video chat, to come and video chat. Sometimes there is a specific topic, sometimes it’s just to shoot the bull. Then you can create a private hangout where only specific people are invited and can see when it starts. It switches to the person talking automatically, and even allows for everyone to watch a Youtube video at the same time. A very cool use that we’ve seen in these last couple of weeks is that celebrities are having public hangouts where 9 people can come in and talk face to face with them to ask questions or have a conversation. Even Newt Gingrich had a Hangout with some people in order to talk about issues. Completely impromptu and with some great conversation.
It also integrates some of Google’s other services directly into the interface.
Latitude – If you check in to a latitude location, it goes directly onto your wall with whatever visibility you want, public, or other circles.
Chat – Chat shows up on your home page with the ability to chat with your gchat contacts that used to only show up on your Gmail. It gives you an opportunity to chat with those people you are used to chatting with and if you start a chat in that window or another window like gmail, then it keeps it open while you navigate through Plus.
Picasaweb – This is what Plus uses as its photos hub. So if you have already shared photos or a photo album with someone and they are your friend on plus, then they will be able to go to your profile and hit the photos tab and see things no one else can, or you can make albums public. Picasaweb is my favorite online photo tool, and the integration here is extremely tight.
Profiles – Google accounts have had profiles for a long time, but they haven’t really been used for anything. But now your plus profile is a much nicer version of the old product, and it is actually useful.
Buzz – If you have a buzz account and anything shared to it, then it shows up in your profile under a buzz section.
+1 – If you have +1′d any sites, then a tab shows up on your profile that shows a few sites that you like and approve of.
Is it any good?
It’s very good, and this is just the beginning.
Especially for those of you who live in Google products, it is great. My typical browser usage keeps a few tabs open all the time, and then the rest change all the time. Reader, Gmail, Facebook. But Facebook has been supplanted by GPlus, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I still go to Facebook to look around a little, but then I come back to Google Plus and check things out cause I know I have missed some very good conversations.
What tips do you have for everyone else?
Create circles, but not too many. Limit yourself to less than 10 circles, because in the end, you probably won’t be sharing with more than a couple of groups of people, or to the public.
Mute this post can be used similar to Mark as Read. So if there is a conversation that you have looked over and just aren’t interested in any longer, then hit the arrow on the post and Mute it. That’s how I manage my feed, especially since, as of right now, if there is a new comment on a post, then the post jumps back to the top of your feed. This makes it difficult to keep up with what is actually new.
Get an Android Device. The Google+ app is fantastic, and even includes a nearby section so you can see conversations that are happening around you using latitude’s coordinates. Plus it has a really nice group messaging app called Huddle, which works very well if multiple people need in on a text messaging type conversation on mobile phones. It also automatically uploads, to a private album, all of the photos you take, automatically if you want, so you can put them on your plus page easier when you get back to your PC.
Dig through the settings. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to find out what settings you can tweak to make it better. And keep checking the settings to make sure nothing has changed that would make your experience better.
How can it improve?
It is new and has a ways to go. The Google team has been fantastic at crowdsourcing the next features and changes for the service from the beta testers, even going so far as to have hangouts so people can explain their ideas and problems in person.
Speaking of hangouts, if you could share your desktop, it truly would be a webex killer. Free 10 person meetings with screen sharing would be absolutely amazing, especially for Google Apps customers.
Google Apps customers do not currently have access. You have to actually have a gmail account to get in right now, but we have been told that is going to change, and Google Apps customers may find this a very useful tool in the long run.
Shared Circles could be a great addition. What if I could have public circles for things like tech posts, so the people who wanted to follow my tech news could just see that and wouldn’t have to see posts about underwater basketweaving or whatever else. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Business pages are another item that they haven’t gotten into yet. They will need something similar to facebook pages so that brands can build their pages and have multiple admins handling the account. And with Google Analytics on board, it would be extremely useful for large and small businesses alike.
There is a section called Sparks which is supposed to be news you are interested in that you can share, but it would be more useful if it was my Google Reader articles, especially since I have already, obviously, defined my interests through it.
Events page. I would love to see a full featured events page so that people could have a wave-like page that included calendar invites and docs integration. It would be great for having multiple people plan an event.
I wish there was a way to be able to see everything that I have commented on or interacted with. Kind of my personal activity feed. As of right now, you can only see items you’ve posted, not everything you’ve commented on or done.
There isn’t currently a super easy way to import your Facebook friends or info into Google Plus, but if they could figure out a way to use the facebook export to import specific info like photos, updates, friends, and everything else. That would be fantastic, especially if Facebook keeps blocking plugins that connect to Google Plus.
I really could talk about this all day, but no one would read it.
It is a fantastic site with a lot of potential. There is going to be a point down the line where people will start coming en masse to the site, but it could be awhile. It has a lot of features and integration, but it will keep some people from joining simply since they have to create another email address, and if they don’t have a gmail address already, then they may not want to go through the steps.
The features for me, are great, and extremely useful, and much more of what I want. If it would get rid of the use for Facebook AND Twitter for me, that would be absolutely fantastic. It’s on its way, and it is still in beta!
In a few months, it could be a completely different ballgame and Google Plus could hit critical mass with people leaving Facebook in droves once they see just how great it is.