I've had a few days to play around with Google's new social network offering, Google+, and I thought I'd share some initial thoughts.
First of all, kudos to Google for "going for it" in the Facebook era. They're one of few players who actually has the resources and skill to make a serious go at a viable alternative to Facebook, and you've got to admire the effort. If the success of the movie The Social Network tells us anything, it's that Facebook has become mainstream and popular, and as generations of younger people look for ways to establish their identity in the digital age, they'll be looking for alternatives to the place where their parents and now grandparents also hang out online. By the same token, people of all ages and professions are trying to figure out just how to effectively and safely use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media tools in a world where we're being encouraged to blend our personal and professional lives together more publicly.
Is Google+ just the right thing at just the right time?
People are already writing about the high bar that Google+ will have to jump in order to see any significant migration of Facebook users, not the least of which is all the time people have invested in curating their lists of "friends" there. Facebook is going to make it as difficult as possible for its users to do any kind of exporting of account information from their system, and I don't think Google is devious enough to launch an unauthorized workaround. So people will be left to recreate their online identity on Google+, where the number of people you are connected to still largely drives your user experience.
On the other hand, despite Facebook's 750 million users, I suspect Google actually knows about at least as many people, if not more. Between its large and growing population of GMail users, the information they have about web users through tracking searches and Google Analytics data, and their ability to gather and index huge amounts of data from other sources, Google is perhaps positioned better than any other digital media organization to say "hey, we already know so much about you, why don't you make yourself at home here!?"
One of the main selling points of Google+ is the ability to organize your list of contacts into Circles, containers (or, for those who want a more widely used descriptor, "tags") that help you figure out who to share what with and how you want to slice and dice the information being shared with you. I've heard a number of people clamoring for this kind of thing on Twitter for a while now, and though Facebook lets you do a version of it, it's clumsy to use.
But as Joel Spolsky suggests, this might be asking a lot of us to exert the mental energy to determine which circle(s) each person belongs in, and to keep up with that over time. Life is messier than "Friends", "Family" and "Co-workers" (especially if you live in a smaller city like I do), and many people have adapted to the "Friend label fits all" approach on Facebook, limiting as it might be. We may not know for sure anyway until a lot more people are using the system.
From an interface design perspective, Google+ has all the hallmarks of a well thought out, well-engineered web application by a company that's been doing this for a while now. I think Google+ has a ways to go to reach the level of simplicity that Facebook has enjoyed when it comes to its primary transaction, the display of a status update from a connection and subsequent comments/likes/etc. On a single post by a connection on Google+, I counted no less than 9 different actions I could take in response (compared to 7 for a comparable post on Facebook, presented with fewer links/clickable widgets).
From a nit picky technical perspective, let me just say that the use of a "+" character as a prominent part of an online service's name is pretty cringe-worthy. The character isn't allowed in a domain name, so they had to use "plus.google.com" for the actual web address. "+" is often used as a joining character in URL query strings or a special modifier in web searches, making its use here conflict a bit now that they're using it in a site name. Google's own search engine is confused by it - try searching for "Google" and "+" as search terms and their new offering doesn't even come up on page one of the results (at least for me). I even feel slightly uncomfortable using the "+" in the title of this blog post.
Until Google makes available an API that will allow other applications to integrate with Google+, there will be a lot of finger drumming going on in the world of web app developers. Basic things like "let me post to Google+ from an app on my desktop or from Twitter" aren't possible yet, and won't be until that kind of access is allowed. Google says it's coming soon.
That's my initial take on Google+. Surely they'll making a number of refinements to the system in the coming weeks and months, and it will be a different ballgame when it's open for anyone to sign up. Until then, I don't think I'll be spending much time there as a user, but it will be very interesting to watch the evolution of what could be a significant milestone in the very short history of social media.
What do you think about Google+?
3 thoughts on “Initial thoughts on Google+”
The most frquent post or response i hear from my friends about G+ is "i dont know how to use it/what to do with it". I have some intro words ive written and have been resharing to get ppl going. In a nutshell: its like Facebook, but its not Facebook! 🙂
The circles thing - you can rename the starting circles and also create new ones. You (Chris) are in my "geeks and nerds", "Richmond and Midwest", and "know well enough" circles (sorry if i just outed you as a geek/nerd 😉 ) - since the circles allow a user to be in multiple simultaneously, it makes sense to create them based on HOW you share data/info online. (ie. I can post about something Mitch Daniels does, or post an esoteric bit of Minecraft humor and ensure that only the ppl who might find that post relevant or at least "get" it can see it.
One feature i particularly like is that if you share something limited (ie not public), other people are prevented from resharing it publicly; it also has a courteous reminder imploring them to exercise judgement with whomever they elect to reshare it. A "do not allow resharing" option is also available.
Initial thoughts on Google+: http://t.co/GeuOGY9
I like it so far. As mentioned before the ability to restrict recirculation is aplus. My guess is it might do a lot better than Buzz (now gone?) and Wave which seems to be no more than a set oft Twitter repetitions to me.
I am using alot more Google stuff now and as I rely on google Calendar and notifications come up on it I might get drawn in if enough people I want to interact with ue it. Of course that is the big one really.
Some useful observations in your article and comments.