A couple of days ago, Google released one of the most amazing products I have ever seen into the world of limited Beta. After much anticipation, a colleague of mine gave me an invitation to Google’s newest attempt at a social service. After using it for a couple of days, I think I am ready to express my thoughts on what Google+ means now, and what I think it will mean in the near and not-so-near future.
Amit, one of the other authors here at Techie Buzz, has posted the technical aspects of what Google+ is and how it works already. As such, I won’t be covering that. If you are looking for any sort of help getting started with Google+, I recommend that you read Amit’s other article, Google+ For Dummies.
Within this post, I will be sharing what I think makes Google+ a real game changer in the social space. I will talk about the features that make it, in my opinion, the best social network available. I will cover that I think makes Google+ great, from the sharing to the feedback. After all that, I will make my predications for the future as it pertains to Google+.
Google+: Circles Changes Everything
As long as I have been using social networks, I have run into one consistent complaint. With every network I have joined, they have told me who I could share with. Twitter made everything I tweeted publicly available. While that’s fine, I wasn’t ever completely satisfied. With Facebook, they told me I could limit it, but if I did, then only the people who were my friends would see it. There was no going back to Public. While I understood the idea, I still wasn’t satisfied.
Then came Google+, with its fantastic management tool known as Circles. Thanks to Circles, G+ has given me what I have been wishing for: the ability to selectively share. What I mean is that I can choose to share certain things with certain circles. If I have a piece of family related news, I can share that with only my family. If I have a great piece of public news, then everyone can see it.
I feel like the beauty of circles works both ways. If people use it as it was intended, we will create a social space where over sharing is less of a problem. We won’t be put off by people telling us about their doctor’s appointment like they do on Twitter. Thanks to the selective Streams, you can catch up with your family and friends without having to read every update from active users like Chris Pirillo or Robert Scoble.
Google+: Sparks Gives Social Conversations
When I search the internet, I work hard to make sure that my results are relevant to both my interests and my search terms. Sometimes I get something that I actually want, and other times I get something less than perfect. I know I have often wished to find a way to discover stories and posts that match my interests. Once I find something, I often want to talk about it with friends who share similar interests.
Google+ has an answer for this desire as well, and that answer is Sparks. Sparks is a sort of social search where you get the opportunity to discover stories that are within your interests. If you like what you see, you can also give it a +1. However, if what you want is a conversation surrounding a story, then you can start one from within Sparks.
I feel like Sparks will change the way I interact with the internet. I have tried to start conversations on Twitter, but its often not as successful as I would like. My Tweets get lost in the mass of sharing on Twitter. Facebook has even gotten more difficult to share with, as there are so many apps and games that fill people’s feeds.
As I see it, Google launched Sparks with one idea in mind: Make stories social again. Part of what makes Sparks great is that it can work like an RSS reader for things you may never have read. You can share an interesting article with your Circles, and they can comment on it or share it with theirs. The organization of the Stream makes Sparks the best way to share and discover new news stories.
Google+: Hangouts Give Us Faces
One of my favorite applications on my Mac is Skype. While the app isn’t always the best on OS X, I love the ability to speak with my friends and co-workers face to face. What upsets me about Skype is that group calls are no longer free.
Again, Google+ has herd my plea for a better option. Hangouts, the group video chat feature of Google+, will allow us to hold staff meetings across the internet. While the 10 person limit may prove to be a barrier, it is certainly more than any other free service is currently offering. Again, the circles will make it possible to restrict our Hangout to only people we want to be there.
Hangouts also looks to be the future of customer service for internet industry. Say that you have a set of customers experiencing the same issue, and want a way to give support to all of them. It will make it so much easier to handle issues, and the problem of the “impersonal phone call” a thing of the past.
Google+: Mobile Will Free Us All
As an Android user, I often feel slighted by the offerings of mobile apps for social networks. It is common knowledge that the Facebook app for iPhone is considerably better than the Android version. The Twitter app continues that pattern. It seems as though iPhone apps always get update before their Android counterparts. While that may be due to the increased amount of time that iOS has existed when compared to Android, I still think its unacceptable.
The Google+ mobile app won’t need to suffer from this plague. While it is currently only available for Android, it is only a matter of time until the iOS version is released. With the power behind Google and G+, there is no reason that the apps can’t be kept in sync.
Another aspect of the Google+ mobile experience that I have fallen for is Huddle. Huddle is a web based messaging client similar to BBM or Beluga. While you can message with a single user, the beauty of Circles again comes into play. You can start a Huddle with a Circle or group of Circles, giving you the freedom to text without the fees with whole groups of people. Google is again setting a standard.
A final note about the Google+ mobile experience, and this one involves media sharing. Within the mobile app, you are given the option to enable Instant Upload. This sort of instant gratification for media sharing is the first of its kind. With the power to connect deeply with the Android OS, Google has changed the way I think about taking pictures with my phone.
Google+: Creating A New Paradigm For Feedback
When I first started using Google+, I was shown the button to give feedback on the project. Hitting the gear at the top right hand corner, and then selecting the Feedback option will give you a window like nothing I have seen before. Where many websites save a URL and ask for a description, Google has changed the game.
The feedback section seems like an odd feature to highlight, but it really illustrates the thought that went into Google+. The ability to give a screenshot, and then protect your personal information, is huge in the world of Feedback. Never before have I encountered a system like this, and I sincerely hope that other services adopt something similar.
Google+: Data Liberation In Action
One of the most exciting parts of Google+ is one I hope I will never touch. From launch, Google has given users the ability to not only shut down accounts, but also take all their personal data with them. Simply hop into the G+ settings, hit Data Liberation, and follow the instructions.
At Facebook, its almost as if they want to blackmail you into staying by not freely releasing your data. They have made news several times by not giving a clear and easy way to remove your identity from their servers. A large portion of that press came from Google, and its good to see that they won’t commit the same crimes.
Google+: My Vision Of The Future
Photo Credit: Rob Hawkes via Flickr
Google+ is still very much in its infancy. It has bugs to work out, flaws to repair, and features to add. There aren’t that many people using it yet, and that’s still by design. It’s Google’s hope that they can, by launch date, have something that will make people want to be a part of it. That is my hope as well.
As far as I can see, the biggest variable for Google+ right now is users. It is up to the public to decide if Google+ is for them. While there is a bit of a learning curve for it now, I don’t think that it will stay that way. Google has clearly drawn a line in the sand, and I feel like they have come out swinging.
I also see Google+ being something that will be pushed through its early stages as quickly as possible. With the impending launch of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) this fall, I believe that Google has every intention of deeply integrating Google+. Where it is an app now, I think that it will become part of the Android experience.
This sort of integration would make sense because it would lead to better user adoption. Nothing would give them more active users than plugging the network into their smartphone operating system. It would solve the largest problem Google will face without them having to do almost anything.
Remember, however, that I am no business analyst or technology pundit. I am a simple writer with thoughts and dreams. I am also a lover of what Google has done and is doing. I also hope that what they will do will make this part of my everyday life, and in turn yours.