By now most people have heard of Google+ (“Google Plus”). It’s basically Google’s version of Facebook. Google has their hands in almost every facet of the internet, and they have a pretty good track record of winning. They overthrew Yahoo as the major search engine, and then took the email crown away from Hotmail. When Google Video didn’t pan out they just up and bought Youtube. Everyone is wondering if they will successfully pull people away from Facebook with Google+ and become the new social network leader.
They’ve managed to create quite the hype around it by only sending out limited invites while it’s in beta. Similar to what they did with gmail. It’s a smart marketing ploy, and it works. Chad got some invites from some of his friends in the 3D art community and sent me an invite which I then passed on to a few friends of mine and I finally got a chance to try it out.
There are some fundamental differences from Facebook I hated at first, but now realize are just differences. They’d take some getting used to, but the work. Mainly, you can’t post to someone’s wall. A profile is for outgoing broadcasts only, no dropping by and leaving a message. Instead that is pushed to the person directly, with the option of being visible to others, all through the “stream”, essentially Facebook’s news feed. I find in a few cases like these, in an effort to make things more simple, it instead complicates them.
Google+’s most hyped feature is “Circles”. You can group friends into different circles, and choose which circles see what. So if you’re posting pictures from a wild party you can make sure not to post it to the “Work” circle. For privacy reasons this is awesome. And for more control over your feed it’s great too.
One concern I have though is Google+’s philosophy seems to be one of exclusion, and this, to me, is not what social networking is about. I’ve made several connections on Facebook because someone posted something that revealed we had a surprising common interest. If that person had chosen who to send that link to based on their assumptions by placing friends into Circles we’d never have discovered we had common interests and formed that spontaneous connection. Facebook seems to be about connections, where Google+ almost seems to be more about cliques. On Facebook acquaintances can become friends. It seems on Google+ a casual acquaintance would file you in the “someone I don’t care about” circle, and never post anything to that circle. To you, that person would barely exist on Google+. On Google+ strangers stay strangers. Facebook, to me, is all about opportunities through connection. I’ve made friends, met women and even GOT JOBS through surprising connections on Facebook. I’m not sure any of those would have happened under Google+’s method of exclusionary social networking. In fact, in some ways Google+ feels more like a chat room than a social network.
On the subject of chat rooms, one of my favorite features of Google+ is the “Hang Out” feature. You pick a circle (or all circles) and you broadcast that you’re just “hanging out”. It’s basically a webcam chat room that anyone in that circle is free to join. Group webcam is something Skype charges for, and Google+ brings it for free. And you can watch YouTube videos together, which is an awesome feature. Seeing your friend’s reaction when the baby sneezes milk out it’s nose on YouTube is pretty cool. It wasn’t without its problems though. Brett couldn’t get sound working unless he left the Settings tab open. Several of us got browser crashes while trying to use it. And the quality and memory usage was generally worse than Skype’s. Still, an amazing feature, and one that is surprisingly free!
It’s this kind of integration into so many other facets of the internet that I think could really make Google+ a contender. Instead of a messages tab like Facebook has it’s integrated right into Gmail. You can “+1” a webpage right from Google search (Google+’s version of “liking” something), etc.
But this integration also led to an extremely sour first impression of Google+. Blogger is owned by Google. This blog is run on Blogger. Whenever I use an image in this blog it’s uploaded to Google’s image hosting service Picassa. Google+ decided to use Picassa for its image hosting. So when I created my Google+ account using my Gmail account, it auto-linked to my Picassa album and posted all my blog photos to everyone in my social network, including pics of half-naked celebrities from things like my crush lists. Not stuff I want plastered into everyone’s feeds. But if I messed with the privacy settings at all for those albums, the image links stopped working for my blog and I lost 4 years worth of images for this blog. So I had to decide to either lose all the images on my blog, or to save them, have them published for everyone to see in Google+ right on my profile, and every time I add a new pic to the blog it’d add it on my profile as well. Not impressed.
Looooong story short, to fix it I had to create a new gmail account, transfer my Picassa albums to it, transfer this Blogger account to it, wait for Google to process the 2 transfers and then reset my Google+ Picassa account. The whole time I was praying if it didn’t work none of it was irreversible. Totally ridiculous and not something I should have had to deal with on a fresh account for a new social network.
But my account is finally truly fresh. This blog and its images are now truly separate from my Google+ account. And to be fair, Google+ is still in beta. And Facebook is far from where it started, so Google+ will presumably evolve as the needs of its customers become clear.
One thing I don’t think anyone wants is further division among social networks. It’s already annoying having some people who use Facebook and some who use Twitter. Not to mention the professional social networking on LinkedIn. Google+, with its Circles feature, could theoretically replace them all. There’s a “Following” circle meant for following people you don’t know but find interesting, just like Twitter. But you can also post videos and pics to your friends and tag them when they’re in them, comment on them, etc., just like Facebook. And if they add a few more professional options you could theoretically have work history and resume just like LinkedIn. I’d love to see consolidation in social networks, but I’d hate to see further division. Only time will tell which Google+ ends up being.
If anyone wants to try it for themselves leave a comment with your email and I’ll send an invite!