Well, that wasn’t long. O.k., in tech years, its like so 1965 to be two days after the first wave, but still. Definitely not as long as I had to wait for Wave. I have been playing around with Google + for a few hours now. And I am desperately hoping: (a) it catches on with the mainstream; (b) it maintains its clean, uncluttered look and feel; (c) it actually becomes a viable alternative to Facebook.
Reading the negative tech reviews will yield a bevy of criticisms for how + has been rolled out, the signup and invite process, the bugs with connecting this account or that account. But that is the stuff of beta / invite-burdened new apps. Once inside, it is a compelling mix indeed.
The social application is really a sum of many parts, some new, some old. Looking back over the past few months and the little upgrades Google has rolled out to Profiles, +1, and Gmail, you can really see the path to Google +. First, the new. Circles – a means of grouping friends, borrows public streams from Twitter, Friend Groups from Facebook, but adds something new – the ability to post only to the circle. This promotes privacy and more fine-grained sharing – you can freely share with friends circle that which you might not want to share with your family or work circles. The clever animations when you create and add to Circles and the ease of use of the system are nice tweaks. +1 to Google on its circle implementation.
Next, the stream. Think Facebook News Feed meets Friendfeed here. The stream is content created and shared by the people you follow (filtered by circles if you wish). The Friendfeed element comes from posts popping back to the top of the stream when new comments or +1′s are added to the post, as well as the ability to mute or hide a post in the stream. Some commenting edits can only be accomplished after the post is shared, which is tricky. But what do you expect from a beta?
Photos are integrated with Picasa. Tags can be applied by anyone, which isn’t great, but you have the ability to approve or reject a photo tag, which makes up for the privacy breach. The photo tab now includes both your own Picasa albums and photos shared by your friends on Google+.
Sparks assist you in starting a thread on a particular topic within a circle. Go to the Sparks tab and it gives you topics of general interest, which you can then follow. Sparks are private to you, unless of course you share them with your circle(s). I am following the Soccer spark.
Hangout is also new. It is a super-cool video chat that can pull in anyone in a particular circle. Great controls, plus the ability to watch YouTube videos as a group within the sub-app – very fun and, of course, social.
You going mobile? Well, your options are a native app on Android, or a very nicely executed web app on iOS. The mobile Google + incorporates a great group chat called Huddle, up to 50 people! That might get a bit unwieldy, but it could have worked well in the large conference / training session I ran today. ;)
How about the old? Well, your Google Profile, Picasa Web Albums as noted above, Google Chat and Gmail are all easily accessible and highly integrated with Google +. You can get notification of actions on posts and other information in Gmail, like Buzz. Or not. You can quickly shift to Google chat via a button in the left sidebar of Google +. Your home stream, pics, profile and circles are easily accessible from buttons right along the top and slightly to the left. And, like Android, notifications are obvious, but very unobtrusive – via a small red box in the brand new black bar at the top of Google’s various screens.
And the design is beautiful. Clean. Sparse. Gorgeous. Even Gmail is celebrating – check out the new Preview and Preview (Dense) themes in your Gmail settings and you can get a similar design applied to your Gmail. Clearly, Google has been thinking about this integration for a while now and has been carefully and slowly slipping out the pieces, letting us get familiar with small parts of the new system, before unrolling the meat of it.
One more thing: you can take it all with you. You can pull all the content you add into Google+ right back out of Google+. it’s yours after all, right? Not everyone thinks so. I’m looking at you, Facebook. Big plus for + on that one.
Is it perfect? Well, no. But few things are, especially when new. Facebook wasn’t. Twitter still isn’t. I think Google is further along the developmental curve than either of these were at inception, but Google also has the benefit of their errors in social, as well as their own. I think this is the most promising foray Google has made into social, a battleground that its new management deems to be vital. I wish them luck and longevity. And I wish for myself that more of my mainstream friends could get in and see what a great option the new Google+ really is for social sharing and integration. Big +1 ups, Google!