Google+ is officially on the market, and it’s being released in small doses in the form of invites. Much like how Gmail was initially spread in beta, the invite only model creates a sense of exclusivity and belonging. Facebook also used this method to market their network to college students, and eventually became part of the global definition of social media. Whether Google+ mirrors this success is anyone’s guess, but until that time it is time to get to know the features.
Like all new programs and applications there is a learning period that dictates whether or not users will generally adopt them. For example Quora was built to appeal to techies. It’s not necessarily the most visually appealing system, but there is a plethora of great information on it. Currently Google+ has some informative YouTube videos and basic notification windows to help you learn their process, but the best way to learn how to use it is to adjust to its intuitive presentation.
The first thing you will see when going to Google+ is your stream. If you are on Facebook, this is known as your News Feed, and on Twitter it is your timeline. Here you will see updates from people you have in your circles, and in real-time.
The status update section allows you to select what circles you want to share content with, make it publicly available, or extend it to your friend’s friends (extended circles). Currently status updates can come in the form of text, photos (albums, single images, or from your mobile), videos (upload, from YouTube, or from your mobile), a link with some added meta text, and geotags.
Items that you post to your stream can be edited whenever you want. In comparison, Facebook currently allows for a few seconds when you post a comment, and LinkedIn provides 15 minutes to edit posts. To further your privacy settings you can also select what items can be shared publicly. That means if you select a particular circle to share content with, they will be unable to reshare it unless they save it separately. You can also disable comments on an item as well.
This portion of Google’s social network copies Facebook’s visual look, but you can follow people like you do on Twitter and they will appear in your stream. It would appear that active conversations also appear at the top of your stream. The Stream improves upon several Facebook security issues that people complain about. Where as Facebook allows you to hide a post in your news feed, you can mute a post on your Google+ Stream. Similar to Tumblr another user can add a comment to your original post when selecting the share button.
Google+ Circles act like any other list (but with fancy drag and drop options) where you differentiate between who you would like to see certain things you post online. Diaspora was doing great things in this arena, but it would appear their Alpha status is going to continue for quite a while. Even though Facebook has friends groups and specific privacy settings much like Circles, the issue comes down to the user. Privacy functionality is there, but unless it is easy enough to use and is clearly defined, a person will ignore it. A regular user will likely continue to just upload items based on the networks default settings out of pure laziness. If a social network really wants to protect their members they should attempt to create an algorithm that suggests circles or lists based on keywords.
So you’re a photo junkie? It would appear Google+ has trumped every other social media site with their photo system in several ways. Facebook just released their facial recognition feature that identifies faces based on common characteristics, and Google tames the process down by locating faces.
The most important feature is in the details. Once you select a photo click the Actions drop-down menu, and select Photo details. This will flip the image around and bring up the light levels, camera used, exposure, aperture and other details. That means all you folks out there who like to blow your contrast out to hide physical features will now be clearly exposed. In addition to gaining information on the photo, you can currently select six different filters to alter the images appearance.
Google released +1 in an attempt to connect your Google activity to websites in a way akin to Facebook’s “Like” button. With the integration of Google+, +1 now acts the same way. Google +1 selections from your friends will likely be a factor in your search results as well. Currently if you are signed into Twitter, Google will show search results for items that your followers/friends have previously shared.
One of the more interesting new features of Google+ is the new collaboration tool that pulls together Gchat attributes within a social setting. From your Google+ homepage you can start a hangout by selecting the green “Start a hangout” button on the right side navigation. From here you can select what Circles you want to join the hangout, and your webcam and microphone will activate.
You can use this tool like a chatroom with cameras, to collaborating on a document, or even watch a YouTube video in real-time together (sort of odd, though Netflix would be a nice option). As people join the hangout you can also invite specific people that are not listed in the Circle. By default the person who is talking or moving will appear in the center of the hangout. If there is one feature that will particularly make Google+ effective, this is it. Once they integrate Google Docs into the Hangout feature it will become invaluable.
The Black Bar
Google’s Black Bar (clearly I don’t have any official name here) becomes part navigation, part notification when you are signed in. The Black Bar now follows you to any other Google product like Google Docs or the Calendar, and allows you to receive notifications and update your status.
Google Sparks appear to be their informal way of sharing content that may interest you. Essentially Google+ Sparks are like RSS feeds that draw content based on your keyword of interest. Because there are no formal groups, Sparks allows you to draw in content that interests you and share it with particular circles. At this point you can discuss or comment on the item.
Google+ combines other standalone features such as Gchat, the Picasa photo sharing service and Google Voice, but the beta service seems to lack integration with other Google services that should otherwise be a no-brainer, including Gmail, Reader, Docs, Apps, and Calendar. At this stage, you don’t even get notifications in Google+ when new emails arrive, nor can you easily recommend webpages to your Google+ ‘Circles’.
Another thing conspicuously missing from the first release of Google+ is an Application Programming Interface or API. This is a must for Google+ to succeed, and developers everywhere are already loudly clamouring for one.
Perhaps Google is waiting for users to demand such integration. It will be interesting to see how Google pulls together its various offerings – and if such a broad Internet land grab will be permitted by regulators in various jurisdictions.
The EU is already concerned about Google owning the search market. If it succeeds with Google+ to the point that rivals are squeezed out, there may be an anticompetitive practices investigation either in Europe or the US.
Google will need to be vigilant here if it wants Google+ to succeed and not to become another unfinished project like Wave and Buzz.
What do you think of Google’s latest attempt at creating a competitive social network? Does it have what it takes to survive? Is there any specific feature that it lacks? Sound off in the comments below!