Oh, hey, great, ANOTHER “Here’s what I think of Google Plus” post!
I’ve had my hands on Google Plus for about 3 days now, thanks to the generosity of a co worker who I harangued online outside of work hours to hook me up with an invite. (CHRIS HART YOU DA MAN!) I didn’t get to invite anyone in spite of trying several reported “workarounds” on Thursday and Friday- but I’ve been using it pretty heavily since Wednesday night, along with a few other similarly dorky early adopters. My initial impressions are very positive! The mobile app in particular has Facebook handily beat- more on that later.
Registering is super easy, I simply clicked on the email from my buddy Chris Hart– which he sent by entering my email address when he shared his first piece of content- and I was in the system. Others joining later will have a similarly easy time, all you have to do is enter their email address to share a piece of content from your feed with them, and they’re automatically invited. Since I’m an SEO dork, I’ve been using Google +1 for a while now and have had a pretty robust Google profile filled out, so there wasn’t much to do besides set up my Circles and Sparks when I logged in- more on that later. Oh, and of course, make sure you go through each and every privacy option. Be warned, the privacy settings are a little difficult to understand, and for some reason, all the options are given in overlays on top of your personal profile page. Zuh? The security options are daunting, just like Facebook’s, and I have to admit that that part of the interface is a little kludgy. However, since you have to explicitly define who you’re sharing every single piece of content with every single time you post it, there’s much less chance that you’ll screw up some obscure option and your boss will see you at the 4 AM Wednesday beer pong party.
Speaking of logging in, you have to have a Picasa account to tie to your Google Plus account; registration is included as part of the signup process. What this means is that when using the Google Plus mobile app, every time you take a picture or record a video using your cell phone, it’s automatically and simultaneously synced to a private folder in your Picasa account. You can then choose who to share photos with, and this feature comes with lots of nice options to save your battery- no uploads, uploads only on wifi, uploads only when the phone is plugged in, etc, etc. There’s even a built-in photo editor that lets you add modest artistic touches like cross-process, black and white, or auto contrast.
I think that Circles are what’s going to kill Facebook if anything does. Circles are how you get away from Facebook’s “all or nothing” policy, whereby you really can’t choose if what you post shows up in specific people’s stream, and someone is either a total stranger or your best friend. With Plus, every time you share content, you have to opt in and tell the system who to share it with. When you’ve already shared something, the system defaults to the last setting- but they’ve really gone out of their way to make sure things aren’t shared with people you don’t want them shared with, and that’s accomplished through Circles. On the Circles screen, all of your contacts appear in the top half of the frame, and all of your circles appear in the bottom half of the frame. The system starts you off with basic circles- family, friends, acquaintances, following- and then you simply drag all of your contacts into the appropriate Circles. So, now you can finally choose to share things just with family, with family and friends, with family and co workers but not with friends, just with friends, just with one person, with all of your circles, with the public…it goes on and on. The Circles option is probably the single best thing about Plus so far.
Hangout video chat is also cool, though I’m not a big video chat fan, I could see Google Plus migrating to Internet- connected TVs so people can…hang out, virtually, while watching the same show. A cool video feature is that if you are in a Hangout and choose to share that, the Hangout will also appear in your friends’s feeds, enticing them to join the conversation. They scooped Facebook for sure with the video chat- I just don’t know anyone that uses it regularly.
The Sparks item could use some work, basically, think of a Friend that’s just a keyword. So, if I set up a Spark based on “WWE”, I can click on that Spark and see news items, videos, blog posts all related to that keyword, served in a feed just like your Facebook or Google Plus feed is. The functionality here is a bit limited- there’s no way to hide items that might be spoilers, or offensive, or just not what you want to see, for example. This means that along with high quality articles from the WWE website, I also get badly filmed 15 second YouTubes with rubes going on about how CM Punk is the devil incarnate. I would absolutely love to have the RSS reader functionality built in here, so I can say “I like this” and “I don’t like this” and that directly affects what types of items they show in that feed in the future. Stay tuned, because Sparks have the potential to improve quite a bit- I just don’t see a whole lot of usefulness to them right now.
Google Chat is also integrated right on the home page. Um, yay? (is anyone left out there that’s not using a multiclient IM handler by now?) We didn’t need chat built in, though I could see it’s use on a public terminal that isn’t running Pidgin or Trillian. Could we get an option to hide it?
There has been one privacy snafu so far in that when you share items privately with Circles and then people in those Circles can re-share those items publicly, so it’s possible that something might get out there that you don’t want anyone to see. However, every piece of content you share also comes with a “disable resharing” button. Nice!
What I think is truly the best part about Plus is the mobile app (on Android). I’ve heard that the iPhone app is a little…less…awesome? Maybe by design? But if I could convince everyone I know on FB to switch to Plus, the mobile app alone would be worth it. A ton of information is included, such as feeds from people geographically close by. The check-in button is right on the front page. Circles are right there. Friends are right there. Hangouts are replaced with Huddles (think a mobile chat room for ten without needing a clunky IRC app). And the interface is clean, slick and fast. 5 icons drive everything- Stream, Huddles, Profiles, Photos and Circles. And all the same privacy options are baked right in.
There’s no shortage of posts already either decrying Google Plus as a Facebook rip-off, unnecessary, or already an abject failure. Until the product hits a wider ecosystem and more people have a chance to interact with it- and until Facebook gives people an easy way to export everything for upload to Google Plus- not bloody likely- the jury’s still out. Personally, I don’t think people will want to leave behind 800 Facebook friends for the novelty of something new, and Google isn’t really seen as a warm fuzzy company these days either. I, however, give the product- especially the mobile app on Android- two big thumbs up. Best feature so far? Nobody begging me for virtual fertilizer in Farmville every 5 minutes!