As I mentioned in a recent post, one interesting component of Google+ is Google's own use of it for feedback and communication with users. Various Googlers have been using it as a tool to seek out user perception and creative ideas for improving the service.
Google has certainly had plenty of ways of communicating with users in the past (even if they weren't always utilized to their maximum potential), but Google+ presents some new opportunities - perhaps most notably, the Hangouts feature.
Mark Striebeck, Engineering Manager for the Gmail frontend, along with Gmail UX Designer Jason Cornwell, Gmail Product Manager Alex Gawlay, and Gmail Community Manager Sarah Price, hosted a Hangout on Google+ to discuss possible integrations of Gmail and Google+ not only with one another, but with interested users who had ideas to contribute.
We don't know how these integrations will end up, but some of the concepts discussed included the integration of Gmail and Google+ private messaging, the use of Circles as email groups, the ability to add people to Circles from Gmail if they already have a Google+ account, and the general user interface design.
One user suggested on Google+ that the service should be merged with Buzz, and remain accessible from the Gmail inbox. "G+ has been blocked By China's GFW within 2 days since it's trail announcement, but Buzz is working within Gmail, I don't think GFW will block Gmail completely because there are lots of users in China, including foreigners and business users," he commented. "G+ and Buzz are offering very similar service, while G+ is in a better way for social networking…"
In fact, a lot of people are still wondering about the future of Buzz. Google has so far made no indications (that I'm aware of) that Google Buzz will be going away. When Google launched the +1 button, they justified having both that and Buzz, which appear under separate tabs on a user's Google Profile. Having both of those in addition to a Google+ posts tab, I have to say, seems a little overkill.
Another thing I find odd is that there is no button for publishers to put on their content that simply lets a user share the content to Google+. There is a Buzz button, and there is a +1 button. While both will post to the Google Profile (under separate tabs) neither will just be a regular Google+ post.
Here's the official response Google is going with; "Google+ won’t have any major impact on Buzz right now. Buzz users will still see a Buzz tab on their Google profile, and Buzz will continue working as it always has. Google+ users can also be Buzz users or can decide to just share their content using one of the products. Over time, we’ll determine what makes the most sense in terms of integrating the products."
As far as Google+ as a communication tool between Google and users, Striebeck wrote, "I very much enjoyed hanging out with you guys. Some great ideas about Gmail/Google+ came up. But it was just very exciting to try out this new way to connect with our users - I love it!….Oh, and as I said before, I will do this hangout thing more often. So, hopefully I have the chance to talk to more of you guys!"
Joseph Smarr, a technical lead on the Google+ team actually took to AnyAsq for an ongoing Q&A with users, where they are encouraged to ask "anything" about Google+. So far, he's answered nearly 60 questions, making this a pretty nice resource of information on the service.
Here are a few interesting nuggets (Smarr quotes) from that:
- "I don't control our overall roadmap, but personally I'm eager for many of the features other Google+ users have asked for recently: smarter ranking/collapsing/filtering in the stream and notifications (though I consider it a 'good problem to have' that there's already so much activity on G+!), integration with more Google products (e.g. an easy way to share articles from Google Reader to G+), and an API so I can start hacking on cool uses of circles, etc. in my "copious spare time". :)"
- On the possibility of the ability to create hierarchies of circles (circles made from multiple circles): "There are definitely good use cases for this, but we worry about the complexity it would introduce. This might be a great "power-user" feature to build using our APIs (once they're ready, heh)."
- On the ability to link multiple accounts to one Google Profile: "It's certainly something I've been lobbying for internally, though as you can imagine it'll be complex and tricky to do right everywhere."
- On events/Calendar integration: "As usual, nothing specific to announce, but clearly planning events and sharing stuff around events is an important part of socializing online, and as you might imagine, many of us on the team are itching to do something cool and useful in this area."
- On an ETA for the API: "Not yet, sorry! We're eager to get it out though, trust me! You can sign up at https://services.google.com/fb/forms/plusdevelopers/ to learn more as soon as we're ready."
- On not making Profiles available for Apps users: "We're working on it, sorry for the delay!"
- On a possible way to group circles together in the stream to reduce "noise": "No current way to do that, but it's feedback we've heard a lot, and helping users manage the signal-to-noise of their stream (both manually and automatically) is definitely high on our priority list."
- On adding RSS/Atom feeds for public posts: "To be honest, I'm surprised we don't have them (we did for buzz)...lemme look into that! :)"
- On hashtags or something else to filter updates: "Personally, I want this too (and I know Chris Messina agrees, heh), but we don't have anything official to say about this (or pretty much any other specific future features or timelines)."
- On search and tagging: "Nothing specific to announce, but both are actively discussed topics internally with many Googlers asking for them too! :)"
I find Google's openness about possible future features of Google+ to be very interesting. In my time covering Google, I can't remember the company ever being so open about features that may or may not come to fruition. Very often, it's been the "we don't have anything specific to announce" response with not much else.
Perhaps Google really is getting more social.