SAM MORRELL


ASTROPHYSICIST

My Initial Impressions of Google+

July 12, 2011   |   Reading time: ~7 mins

As I’m sure most of you know, Google hasn’t had the best of luck with social media and social networking services. With names like the late, great Orkut under it’s belt, as well as the likes of Buzz long since passed by the wayside and doomed to failure, it’s a wonder that they ever even contemplated trying to dip their toe cautiously in the sea of social networking again, but this week they really came out with their big new project. Google+ (or Google Plus, whatever you like). I got an invite just yesterday and I already have some initial impressions, so here goes nothing.

Like Facebook… but Nicer

First things first. The thing which everyone thinks when they try a new social network is how does it weigh up to the existing members of the species, Facebook being the main one of them. As an avid Facebook user, I procrastinate on the site many hours per day and the first thing that struck me is that anyone used to Facebook, the site which pretty much set the mainstream standard for social interactions, will be right at home in the shiny new interface. The first thing that struck me is how much nicer it looks. It maintains the basic layout of Facebook, but the design has so much more white space. Everything is spread out and the content is allowed room to breathe, unlike the cramped together layout of the Book of Face. The next thing that struck me is the platform specific things. Google+ does some neat stuff of it’s own, the way you can organise contacts into circles and segregate your content / contacts into those defined groups is awesome! I know you can do that sort of thing in Facebook’s jumbled friend manager, but it’s just not with the same pizzazz. With Google+ contact management is so intuitive it’s almost stupid. The general trend you’ll notice about Google+ after a while is that it’s very like it’s cousins in the social networking ecosystem, but it generally tends to do things a lot more nicely. Everything has that extra amount of polish on it. You can tell that the boys and girls at Google really put their best efforts into this attempt at taking the social network crown. Even the notifications area has been carefully thought out. Clicking on the notification won’t take you to the post, it will load up the post inline and allow you to comment and +1 it straight off, I really like this.

Everything now has a purpose

The thing which has struck me hugely about the experience I’ve had with Google+ is how it wasn’t a hassle to set everything up. With new miscellaneous social site you usually have to go around setting everything up, connecting with other services and all that jazz, but because Google has been getting it’s ‘Big Brother’ on with your data for the past how ever many years you’ve had a Gmail account, you don’t need to do all that. It’s all ready to go. So, within 30 seconds I was all ready to go and venture forth into the world of Plus. The other nice thing is how now, it ties in with all Google’s other services, unifying them all under one easily usable banner. Picasa Web Galleries is now your one stop shop for social photo sharing, and the great news is that if you’ve been hording them for years, they’re already available on plus, just switch them to public. It also ties in with YouTube, another Google acquisition, pulling in videos to your stream in a very fitting manner. Check-in metadata is handled by Google Maps, so that page you probably used to think were useless now provide very useful information about where your friends currently are and Google Chat is now the chat client for Google+, so that Chat section down the side of GoogleMail that you’ve probably never used will finally see some action, and most of all it is Google Chat, so third-party clients already speaks it’s language allowing you instant access to chat on your desktop. Most of all, when you’ve signed into any other Google service, you’re already signed in to Plus. It all works beautifully together.

Now, the Downside!

Yes, it has it’s negatives, but they are indeed few and far between. Big flaw, there’s no one there! Yes, I know that it’s because it’s still deep in testing and development, but it does mean that to most people in the world, for the moment it’s rendered effectively useless. Instead of searching for people you know, you have to go to the trouble of inviting everybody, and though I’m sure there is a limit to your invites, I have yet to hit it. The big issue is that for a social network, it’s not terribly social at the moment. Apart from the few geeky friends I have who are already there / I invited, it’s relatively void of anywhere near regular amounts of social interaction. The best thing Google could do to truly test out their social infrastructure is to open it right up to anyone and everyone. Then it’ll gain popularity, unlike their past ventures which floundered and drowned in the sea of services, and yes you guessed it. All the other attempts were invite only for nearly their entire lifetime.

Here’s what they need to do

This section is probably my own opinion, but here’s what I think Google need to do to make Google+ a success.

  • Open it up! Make it public as soon as possible, they will never truly test it until they open it up, they will never get a true idea of what they can handle until they do this, this move will encourage adoption and probably make it rather successful on it’s self.
  • The one thing I’ve been complimenting them about over this whole post is the user experience of the site. It has ample white space for all content, making the social interaction a top priority, they need to make this stick true if they want me to keep singing their praises. The big problem I have with Facebook is that looking at your Homepage is usually somewhat of an information overload. None of it is properly spaced and it’s all just jumbled up in a partially templated mess. They really need to keep it minimal like it is at the moment. Hide away what the user does not immediately need until they need it, but make it simple for them to get to at the same time. It’s a challenge, but one I reckon Google can take in their stride.
  • This leads me on to my next point. One thing I severely dislike about Facebook is it’s apps. While they do have their place and I have dabbled in a little minor hypocrisy from time to time, apps are generally a bane of Facebook user’s existences. They clutter up news feeds while contributing little if nothing to the overall experience, aside from just providing free advertising to the app itself. I’m not saying that Google+ shouldn’t have some kind of App Platform, I just think Google need to be very careful about maintaining the user experience to the high level it currently is at so that they avoid the information overload I currently get on Facebook.

Overall Impressions

Putting it simply, Google done good! Though the odds were against them, with their track record counting against them also, they came out with what so far looks like a truly brilliant social networking experience. It’s well designed and well thought out, making up for a lot of the problems found in it’s much older cousins. This, in my estimation, makes it a success. They’ve taken what was already an acceptable experience and added their own shine to it in a way only Google could really truly do. I only hope that it eventually sees the light of day and gets opened up to the public before it becomes just another aborted experiment in Google’s ever expanding lab. Do I like it? Well, let me put it this way. At the moment I have a tab for Google+ open, but I do not have a tab for Facebook anywhere to be seen.

Thanks for Reading.

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