A month ago Google launched their latest foray into the world of social networking, Google+. The last two, Buzz and Wave, were inelegant failures. Since I’m one of those geeky early-adopter types I’ve been using it since the start. People keep asking me what it is, so here’s my best attempt.
Google+ is a way to share thoughts, photos, videos, links and more but it also has some additional functions like group video chat and messaging. It’s currently in a ‘testing phase’. It’s sorta like Facebook, sorta like Twitter and (thankfully) nothing like MySpace or Bebo.
So, what do you need to join?
To start with you need a Gmail address and a Google profile. Google also insist that you use your real name, not an alias. This has caused much consternation online and I expect them to relax this rule somewhat. You also need an invite.
When you join Google+ you are prompted to add people to Circles. This is the core difference to the other networks. From the beginning you organise people into groups – friends, family, following etc. When you share something you choose which people or Circles can see it. Don’t want Dad to see lurid pictures of you on a night out? Don’t share it to your family Circle. Want to send sweet nothings to that special someone? Share it with them alone. Simples.
The ‘following’ notion is more like Twitter than Facebook. You can Circle anyone on Google+ but they don’t have to accept or follow you back.
Want to video chat with 10 of your friends? Hangouts are for you. After simply installing a browser extension you’re ready to rock. The software is particularly clever: All members of the hangout are visible as a small video icon at the bottom of the screen; the person talking is detected by the software and their video stream is enlarged and moved to the top of the screen. You can even watch YouTube videos together with one person in control of the player.
I haven’t really used it much but it’s certainly a killer feature. In fact I think Facebook’s much-hyped tie-in with Skype was prompted by Hangouts.
Sparks is touted as a way to “get a constant feed of things that you’re really into”. It’s like a search engine for news and blogs, supposedly giving you access to the most popular articles on any subject you choose. The articles are given extra weight by +1’s – Google’s version of the Facebook Like button. These are already influencing search ranking – see below.
In practice I’ve found it a little lacking but, inexorably, I expect it to improve.
The Google+ app for Android and iPhone has extra tools. Huddles are a way to send messages (think texts) to people in a Circle. An simple example is that at a concert or football match you could chat to your mates at the other side of the stadium. For free.
There’s no way for businesses to add a Page on Google+ yet. That option is still in very limited testing – it seems to be limited to major (American) brands. There’s no search function for updates, it’s for people only. There’s no API which means that there’s no easy way for programmers to integrate Google+ functions with their apps. There’s no games. Yet.
For me, the biggest missing function is the ability to share Circles or make them public. I’d love to tap into and help manage a public Circle for Irish news.
Google+ is a well-designed and engineered product that’s in its infancy. It has plenty of options and its development team are actively responding to request from users. It already has 20 million users. It values your privacy.
What’s not to like?
Postscript: What’s the real reason they’ve given this to us?
At the heel of the hunt Google is a massive company that wants to make massive profits. They’ve seen that Facebook is taking some of ‘their’ advertising revenue so they’ve come up with a new platform. It’ll take a while before it competes strongly but I think they have aces up their sleeves.
What it’s really about is information.
Lots of social media experts are saying that Google+ is a waste of time for business. It doesn’t have any way for them to have a presence on the platform and Facebook and Twitter are much bigger anyway.
Have a think about this. It’ll have even more info about every user to help it target search results and advertising. This is already happening. If someone you are connected to +1’s a link on the web it ranks much higher in the search result and the result is highlighted with their picture. It will tell you if you’ve visited a link before and how often.
Businesses take note. If Google+ takes off it will become the must-have platform. IMHO.
Want an invite? Get in touch
An edited version of this post was published by The Mayo News