Google+ early impressions

Due to a series of personal stupidity moments I put myself through yesterday I ended up bedding down underneath a thin sheet, while holding my knees and fitfully waking through the night. So when I awoke this morning at 6am it was with a mind bent on distraction that I picked up my phone to see what had happened online during my quest for sleep. To my pleasure I found that I had been gifted an invite to the new Google+ project (many thanks Ms. N O’D), which I had been reading about with enthusiasm all day yesterday.

To those of you unaware of this new fangled Google+ here are a couple of good little run downs, the official page and a wiki entry. Essentially Google+ is the new social networking contender, placing itself firmly in the Facebook playing field.

Now I’ve only been using and playing with Google+ for a few hours now, but I have some initial thoughts that may warm people up to the service.

Being a Google project one of the benefits of Google+ is the integration with other Google services. This first picture shows the bar that appears across of all the Google services, allowing easy access to all of their other offerings.

That +Wayne (obviously specific to each user) on the far left is the new addition to this bar. That’s the Google+ page where we can see the Stream, Sparks (getting to it) and the usual social networking front end.

This second picture is of the right hand side of this bar.

There’s the regular settings cog, an instant share box and a notifications box (as you can see I have none right now, I’m not very popular!). This integration and ease with which it is introduced to existing Google accounts should be inviting to potential users. There’s very little set up required, and since it’s kind of mostly there anyway the attraction is in the simple.

The biggest similarity to Facebook and other social networking sites, in my opinion, comes in the form of the Stream.

From here we add all we want to add: links, photos, videos and thoughts. The photos and videos can be uploaded from mobile phones, and it’s made clear as an option, and instead of photos being added as single item they can be uploaded to albums or new albums can be created. Below that is the Stream itself, where the user can view all of the additions friends have put up for them to see. This part is very similar to the Facebook Feed, but so far the Google+ version is a little cleaner and easier to see. This wouldn’t be a reason to swap or use both services, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

I like the way Google+ handles photos. The pop up browser is nice and simple, while allowing for interaction with the photo and easy commenting. One particularly nice feature of this is the ability to see photo details as in the image below.

We get a variety of useful information about the camera used and the settings for a particular photo. To everyday camera users like me most of this information isn’t important. However if you’re an amateur/pro photographer who is friends with another of your kind this is a useful way to get hints and tips for taking a particular kind of photo in a specific setting should you happen to spy something inspiring from them.

The new Sparks is one of the most interesting additions. The user can browse interests from recommendations or from specific searches, and once these are clicked on a news content stream is displayed allowing the user to pick and choose from links which are concerned solely with the Spark in which they are interested. It’s very much like a consistent search option, constantly pulling down news on the specific topics. So far I’m testing it with Neil Gaiman, Android, Films and Comics. I’ve found that the news is reasonably recent, variable in type from text to video and perhaps most importantly it’s very easy to use, and so is a great way of discovering content on the web.

The other big new feature, and perhaps the best, is Circles. The idea is pretty simple, the user adds friends and contacts to a circle and then the user can share content specifically with that circle. Say if you wanted to post about a family reunion, but didn’t want all the people you’re friends with to know about it then Google+ allows you to share with only specific circles, and with the incredible ease of two clicks. The option is available on every post, so photos and videos etc. can be made to appear in the Streams of only the people you choose. I suppose to some people this might appear exclusionary (and for surprise birthday Circles that might be the point) but I think that this is a clean way of delivering content to people who might be interested in it, or who would enjoy it, as opposed to sharing that special fart joke video with everyone you know.

Another cool little feature is about how content is shared to a Circle. Obviously right now I don’t know a whole lot of people on Google+, and I haven’t been given any invites. However Google+ will email the post to the people without an account in it’s complete form, allowing them some small access to the service. A great bonus of this feature is that if the recipient clicks on the post in the email they will be brought to Google+ and given the option of signing up for an account (I’ve got a few people on it so far this way). It’s kind of like sending out invites without having invites to distribute. I imagine that it is done this way in the spirit of developing the community with people who share stuff and respond to emails!

I haven’t looked at Hangouts yet, which is a group video chat service, but the video I linked to there makes it look pretty good so far, and I look forward to the opportunity to check it out. There’s also the ever present Google Talk, nothing particularly new there though, it works as well as it always has. There is one extra feature to allow people within a Circle see you in chat. I’m not sure how this will work, but I assume random acquaintances and online only friends may be able to chat with the user. I’m sure one of the big tech review sites will have a full down eventually.

One thing that I don’t like so far, which is a small complaint and I’m sure due to change, is that the mobile app isn’t available to me yet. I assume this is because I’m outside of the US, which is fine, but I hope it’s something they bring eventually. The Huddle group chat (again specific to chosen Circles) looks pretty great and I’d love to play with it.

I read a post this morning which basically said that any social network with restricted usage is destined to die out. I agree, the more people we get using a new service which may have a lot to offer the better it will be. So I suggest two things. Firstly if you get in to Google+ soon then send out posts to everyone, convince them to come along and try it out. Secondly Lifehacker has a nice little idea here. I’m not suggesting that people plant their flag in one yard or another, but there’s nothing wrong with sunbathing in both!

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