It is the latest craze in social media: technology powerhouse Google quietly whispered a little secret about a Facebook meets Twitter-like social network they’re launching, hoping word would spread fast through the grapevine. That it has! Google+ is reminiscent of the early days of Gmail when membership was by coveted invite only. Groups of random Google accounts have been given the green light to join and a handful of invites to pass along to their friends. The elusiveness and invite-only access has made Google+ quite the exclusive society and everyone everywhere is vying for an invite.
Having just joined, I thought I would review the new social-networking site and see if it’s worth the hubbub surrounding it. Check out my notes below:
Above is a screenshot with annotations breaking down the initial homepage you’ll get after you have freshly joined. With relatively less fluff than Facebook, many will see Google’s signature “clean look” here, too. Google’s unspoken motto has always seemed to be “Less is more – unless you want it”, with customization available through a variety of themes, plug-ins and labs. So far, nothing of the sort is available through Google+ but it may only be a matter of time before these options are available. Above all, Google has always prided itself on simple interfaces and user-friendly services and Google+ seems to be following suit!
Google+ gives you the option to group your friends into Circles and comes preloaded with 4: Family, Friends, Acquaintances, and Following with an option to make more. No one will know what circle they’re in; it is a simple organizational tool to group people however you want to, and to make it easier to share certain things with specific people.
For example, your co-workers and college friends won’t need to see those oh-so-cute pictures of your baby nephew at your grandfather’s 90th birthday party if you just want to share with your “Family” circle. This also means if you just want to post in your stream (like updating your status) and remind your old college friends that a reunion is in order, you can choose just that circle to send that message to. You also have the option of your circles showing up in your public profile or not, and your circles will be asked to add you to a circle of theirs.
Google+ gives you the option of adding general interests, or Sparks. Clicking on them will give you feeds from news sources, blogs, and YouTube about that interest. This unique feature is a nice breather from being on a social networking site that focuses 100% on the lives of other users.
Sparks allows you to catch up on your other interests, however it’s unclear what will show up on your feed and why it’s those specific ones. A great feature to build on, Sparks could use some customizable options so you see what you want to see about your interests.
The profile page shows your picture, posts, photos (added by you and tagged in them, videos (added in the same way), +1’s, and Buzz. While some of these features are pretty self-explanatory, a couple are more complicated.
The +1’s option is a powerful tool to connect with things around the Web that your friends recommend. Similar to Facebook’s “Like” button, the +1 button appears on just about every searchable page on the Internet. The difference (and plus) to the Google+ version is that because it is integrated with Google, and millions already independently use services like Gmail, there is no extra logging in and allowing access to your virtual world. It could also be a bit overwhelming for those who like to keep their identities separate online, but as someone who hates to open my Facebook life to the world, I’d be more likely to use +1 than hit the “Like” button.
Something very confusing and definitely a little violating is the Buzz tool. Having clicked on my tab, I saw that I was already following 20-some people and being followed by just as many. My Buzz posts turned out to be all recent Tweets from my Twitter account and I’m not sure how this happened. The only assumption I have is that my Twitter is registered with my Gmail address, but even then I couldn’t find any setting on Google+ to give authorization to pull that information.
Google+ looks like it has promise for those who have gotten a little overwhelmed by the ubiquity of Facebook, which seems to cover every aspect of your life and becoming the source of entertainment and news all day, everyday. Less features will take social media users back to more simplistic days, when the main goal was just to connect people on one portal allowing them to share pictures and messages. Google+ has less fluff and more clean, both in usability and interface.
While it might not be the replacement for Facebook and Twitter, it could be the in-between site for those who want to venture away from the magnanimity of those sites, or those who are too intimidated even to join. The bonus is the Google stamp, which is intriguing enough to anybody who has even heard the company name to look into this new service. A few kinks definitely, but promising nonetheless.