Google+ First Impressions
Now that I’ve finally been allowed by the grace of God and Google to join their new social network, I thought I’d quickly run through my sub-24 hour membership impressions of Plus.
Google+ is first and foremost my third major social network. I dabbled on Myspace but it never really grabbed my attention and I’ve yet to really explore LinkedIn the way I probably ought to. But I’m pretty involved in both Facebook and Twitter, having joined the former almost 8 years ago and racking up around 800 tweets in a few months on the latter.
So it is impossible, at the outset, to look at Google+ through entirely fresh and unbiased eyes. It is likely then to suffer comparisons to other social media sites that I am much more familiar with. Of course Google+ doesn’t have to be compared to Facebook, but when talking about it for the first time, comparing and contrasting helps.
But on first inspection, it doesn’t really suffer, because Google+ feels natural. It sort of feels like other social sites while also bringing an element all its own. Does that make any sense?
For instance, as a user of Google+, your main point of entry is your stream. And yes, it does remind you of Facebook’s News Feed. In the status box where Facebook asks “What’s on Your Mind,” Google+ asks us to “Share what’s new.” From this box you can post something in plain text to those who have circled you, share pictures, videos, links and location – or a combination of those elements. A geo-tag can be added to a video post, for instance.
Like both Twitter and Facebook, your stream seems to run in chronological order on Google+, with the most recent posts (your own included) appearing at the top. It’s hard to tell how Google+ will decide what to show me once my stream includes hundreds of people – it would be impractical to show it all. But with only about 10 people currently in my circles, my stream is filled will everything that they are doing – posts, photos, videos, links, etc.
As far as the interaction with your friends’ posts, it works in the way you would expect. Google+ lets you comment and share the posts of the people you follow. Google’s recently unveiled +1 works in a similar fashion to the Facebook “like” button. Once you or others click it, there will be a display that you and _____ “+1’d this.”
You can also +1 specific comments on posts.
The share feature allows you to share everything, not just the media. On Facebook you’re unable to share your friends’ statuses, only links, videos, etc. On Google+ you can share pure “statuses.” This gives it a sort of Twitter “retweet” feel as well.
Google+ will remind you about privacy on post that were shared with a limited audience –
In all, the Stream is perfectly fine, if nothing revolutionary – yet. It allows you to perform the functions that you’ve come to expect from a social network. You will find that each post, whether it be a video, link, photo or other, will display the privacy level at which it was shared – public or limited.
And that’s what truly feels different about Google+‘s sharing system. Whereas on Facebook you can control privacy by putting friends to predesignated groups and detailing everything that they are allowed to see and not allowed to see, Google+ lets you do that in real time.
Every post you make comes with the decision of who to share it with – family, friends, coworkers or any circle that you’ve created. You can also share things with just one person if you’d like. There is also an overarching “public” button to share your posts with everyone.
From what I can tell, the default selection that Google+ makes is to share your posts with your last selected group.
Without a default group already selected to share with, the process of having to click specific circles each time you post would be truly tedious. Good thing Google doesn’t seem to have made this mistake. Although it may be better in the future for the default to be the most shared circle or your most populated circle.
Probably the most talked about innovation that comes along with Google+ is the concept of Circles. And from my limited experience, I really like the way they are implemented.
There is an actual “circles” page that allows you to add and edit your circles with your existing contacts. Google+ suggests circles like “friends” and “acquaintances” but the real fun comes from creating your own circles. The drag and drop method of putting people in categories feels strangely fun. Especially if you want to relegate someone to the “d-bag” circle or “Dante’s 7th circle” as one of my friends told me he puts people he doesn’t like.
Google+ is also constantly suggesting that you add people to your circles. When somebody adds you to one of their circles, you are immediately given the opportunity to add them back as part of the notification system. On people’s “About” pages, there is a button on the top right similar to the “add as friend” Facebook button that allows you to add them to as many circles as you see fit.
Naturally, people can be copied to multiple circles, as sometimes a person in your life can be both a friend and a coworker (or family and a “d-bag”).
Google+ will scan your Gmail contacts for possible + contacts as well.
I feel like the “circles” concept is what’s going to endear Google+ into people’s hearts. Something about categorization just feels neat and natural. Plus, the circles really do help you share things with the right people.
Since it is Google+, it should come as no surprise that YouTube is already heavily integrated into the user experience.
First, when you choose to share a video, you are given the option to upload one, which will allow you to drag and drop the video or snatch it from your computer, or you can use YouTube’s search to find the video.
This is a really nice touch that is going to become a hugely popular feature. Think about your Facebook wall – what percentage of it consists of music videos from YouTube? 80%. 90%. That’s obviously an exaggeration but in all seriousness people love sharing videos from YouTube.
The YouTube sharing is smooth and easy. It even allows you to preview the videos inside Google+ before you add them to be shared. Of course, with YouTube being a Google property, it would seem silly if some feature like this wasn’t a part of Google+. But it is, and it works great.
Although I haven’t had the chance to really play around with Hangouts yet, I can report that it is YouTube integrated as well. Your hangout party can not only video chat with each other, but can simultaneously watch YouTube videos with each other as well. I don’t think it needs to be harped upon just how fun this feature could be.
As far as the Hangouts vs. Facebook/Skype battle goes, Hangouts does allow for group video chat while Facebook/Skype focuses on one-on-one. Hangouts also has a few features that Facebook’s video calling doesn’t have yet. These include both video and mic mute buttons and a detailed settings page with troubleshooting.
One thing I can say that I really like about Google+ is the interface. Simple and clean, the home page provides direct access to just about every feature on the site. The top bar features the photos tab, profile, circles and a search bar to find people on the network. Your stream and chat features are the only things taking up real estate on the left side and the right side features a series of suggestions like “start a hangout” and “get Google+ for your mobile device.”
About that mobile thing – a native app is only available on Android at the time, but they say they are working on an iPhone app. The apps are going to play a big part in the real-time nature of photo and video uploading as “upload from phone” is already an option when you click to share a pic or vid.
For Android users, just install the app and enable Instant Upload to see a stream of your photos and videos for your choosing. iPhone users, in due time, in due time.
I’m not sure if this is just a problem for me or if it true of Google+ users everywhere, but my invites aren’t sending. Google+ is telling me that they have been successfully sent to my friends’ email addresses but they aren’t receiving them. It looks as though they are still making it tough to get in the party.[UPDATE: Google opened up an invite window last night. It didn’t last very long. More on that here]
And so ends my first impressions. There are naturally other facets of the social network that I’ve failed to mention, but I’ve only had it for less than 24 hours – gimme a break.
On first glance, I’m impressed. For people used to Facebook it will feel a little foreign, but not too strange as its setup is pretty intuitive. Is Google+ the future of social? I’m not sure about all of that, but I can tell you that even in its early stages it shows quite a bit of promise.