Within hours of becoming ‘closed beta’ status I received an invite to the highly-leaked new social networking platform from Google called Google Plus (Google+ or G+). After playing with the platform for about three days now, I’d like to share some of my initial thoughts, reactions, and predictions. If you’re not familiar with what Google Plus is yet, be sure to watch their overview video. I’m not covering every aspect of Google Plus here (we will cover that in depth later) but did want to share some of the things that stood out after three days of ‘playing’.
Please leave a comment in this post if you are currently in the beta program for Google Plus with your thoughts (or a link to your own post about it) or if you are curious on what the big deal is.
This is not Facebook. It is not supposed to be Facebook or function anything like it. No walls, no pokes. There is a +1 feature behaves like a Like button and I’m glad there is a function for it. Any social network platform will become cookie-cutter if YOU let the content you allow into your space to be the same. For me, I’m going to limit the people I ‘follow’ to folks I have met in real life and consider to be friends in some capacity. In the beginning I will keep it social and not overly ‘business’ because it’s important to see how I can use this platform differently than I use Facebook. By figuring out what you want this to BE will determine what it IS – to you.
It seems that Google has learned a thing or two about user experience from epic failures like Google Wave and moderate flops like Google Buzz. The main people-grouping feature called ‘Circles’ has a nice visual drag and drop interface that lets you click on the photo avatar of someone you want to put in a circle and just drop them in to include. You can use a tab/checkbox format also, but I like the visual hand/eye movement of putting people in buckets.
My initial reaction was that Google Plus works better with how people want conversations laid out on a screen, but after doing a bit more of a deep-dive, I’m seeing where improvements need to be made.
Although I have always been comfortable with how the security settings in Facebook work, a lot of people were not happy with either how they functionally worked or the granularity of control. Let me just first say that nothing you put on the Internet should be of such high confidentially that you wouldn’t risk it being on a billboard on the Turnpike. (In my opinion, no data online is every 100% safe and secure 100% of the time.) With that said, Google Plus appears to have learned from mistakes both with Facebook and Google Buzz. When you first ‘follow’ a person they are granted no access in return, making it function similar to Twitter in that relationships can exist one-way. Facebook requires a mutual connection, but also leave loopholes to your data depending on your contacts security settings. While it seems initially that there is more work to be done to put people in buckets and control who can see what type of information, THIS is exactly what users have been asking for. Google seems to be delivering.
Google seems to finally have gotten how people want to talk to each other. The concept of ‘Circles’ allows you to group people (notice I didn’t say ‘followers’ or ‘friends’) When at an in-person party, you don’t talk to the entire room at the same time, you have conversations in circles. Google Plus allows you to publish content to specific Circles of people (and in extension excluding others), so you are not creating noise for the rest.
Hangout (Video Chat)
Wow. Just wow. You can create a video chat room with up to 10 participants – TEN LIVE VIDEO PARTICIPANTS – as well as have a text chat. Any people beyond the 10 person limit can still view the video feed. If they add screen sharing and moderation abilities, Skype and WebEx should both be wetting their pants in fear.
This is supposed to be a keyword content curator (hey, they are Google after all, it’s their job to find content based on your preferences) but I’m not finding I use or like it much. Google Reader would be a much better fit in this space. Reader allows me an amazing level of content organization and tagging, and it would be a much better use of space to just integrate a strong pre-existing product here.
Brands and Businesses
On my third day in Google Plus I started seeing companies show up to the party (Ford Motor Company and Hubspot for example.) I can’t begrudge them for wanting to come in and experiment at all. What I will be on the lookout is to see if businesses regurgitate content from Facebook and fret over how many circles they are in (which would be the closest relation to a Fan Page count). Please, I’m *begging* you, do something different. Innovate. Create. Find the box and kick the snot out of it – but whatever you do, don’t go IN the box please.
Recommendations for Google Plus
- Make it customizable like iGoogle has the ability to be. Let us move around widgets and change colors. You know, all the things Facebook denies their users…
- Let me determine how I want to view order in my main stream of content – newest updated, FIFO, or possibly even have a VIP list that messages always bubble to the top from.
Mute a conversationSometimes you follow chatty people, or a particular thread catches fire, and I don’t always want it surfacing to the top of my stream all the time. — This was actually implemented last night due to requests submitted (PS – Google is taking suggestions and implementing changes at a lightening speed, their interest and response is refreshing.)
A word on the purpose of a closed beta program…
Note that Google Plus is highly beta and very closed right now. The invite system was shut down by Google due to the onslaught of invites sent by those of us that got in ‘first’ (guilty!) Google Plus is a work in progress and will evolve and thrive when the current users inside the beta actively work to test the system, submit bug reports, test drive features, and submit constructive feedback. It’s not a place (yet) where people should worry about being left out of conversations or purchase invites on eBay. To be honest, the geeks need to be in there right now to stress the system and look at it with a critical eye. Wanting to be a part of Google Plus just for bragging rights is not a valid reason to be in a closed beta program.