When Google+ launched in 2011, the new social network on the block was warmly received and lauded for its cool, user-friendly interface and innovative approach. It was also billed as a new competitor to the omnipresent Facebook — which, in hindsight, probably set the whole thing up for an inevitable anti-climax.
Despite keeping up a steady albeit sluggish growth, it was just becoming too easy to rip on the ‘blunder’ some saw Google+ to be. Just a few weeks back The Oatmeal turned his satirical eye on the social network and included it in his state of the web comic, playfully mocking its deserted state. Heck, even Deep Fried Man took a swipe at G+ in his tongue-in-cheek column.
Now, in the wake of Facebook’s less than impressive IPO performance, many are pondering the future of its rival. And despite all the G+ bashing, I think it’s time at least one lonely apologist should make a case for the “lonely” social network.
1. Slick new look
Google+ rolled out its new look in April 2012 and it looks splendid. Most notably the change saw a dynamic ribbon of apps replace the static icons at the top.
The customisable navigation ribbon allows users to drag apps up or down hover over certain apps will reveal a set of quick actions and show or hide apps by moving them out of the section.
The new user interface is not only aesthetically pleasing but super easy and intuitive — allowing easier access to your favourites, and the option of adjusting your preferences over time.
There’s also a dedicated hangouts page, which grants seamless access to one of Google+’s coolest built-in features. The chat list now takes centre-stage in the new layout. Although many have praised G+ for its uses beyond those of pure social networking, it is clear that Google still wants to facilitate connections between people.
The profile pages also have an updated feel. Granted, the new look is a bit Facebook Timeline-esque. Images and videos display more prominently and the overall look is less cluttered and more enriched. The update also introduced a new ‘Explore’ page that hosts an aggregated plethora of trending topics and media from across the site.
2. Awesome integration
One of the most exciting features of G+ is its smooth new Twitter integration. Connecting your Twitter account to your G+ page is quick and easy — you’ll be reading tweets, finding out what’s trending and tweeting straight from the Google+ interface before you can type “What’s up Tweeps”. Tweets are updated in real-time, which lends it the same instant-gratification factor as Twitter itself.
The Twitter integration also extends to your G+ home page where your regular stream of G+ updates courses. You can change whether you’re seeing updates from all your circles, certain circles or even the folks you follow on Twitter.
But it’s not just Twitter. All of Google’s services — Gmail, GTalk, Google docs, Picasa, Blogger, YouTube — everything blends effortlessly with Google+, providing an interactive experience that does not compare to any other social network. The YouTube integration in particular is just nifty — you can search, instantly upload and post videos straight from your G+ profile. Convenient, no?
3. Classic G+ features are still pretty clever
I’ll admit that when Google+ launched back in 2011 I was one of the people who got a little over-excited. Heck, I even posted a status update bidding adieu to all my Facebook friends and promptly closed my Facebook account (as you might have guessed, I was back on the big blue the very next day). Although my enthusiasm was perhaps a bit premature, it reflected how I felt about a particular Google+ concept; namely, circles.
Circles allows you to group people in your social network in much the same way we do in real life. This easy, intuitive way of organising your social life is much less fussy than Facebook’s way of clumping people together and it really does enrich your interaction with your groups.
Hangouts are still one of the coolest features of Google+ that people tend to overlook. Video chatting with up to nine people at once, the ability to share Docs and watch YouTube videos with your Hangout peeps… and did I mention: you can wear digital pirate hats while doing all this?
Last but not least is the trusty old ‘plus one’ feature that combines share functionality with a bookmark. In an age of information overload it can be a useful tool for finding all those pages you might want to check out or revisit later.
4. Google+ and the future
Google seems to have everything it needs to build the perfect online community, but people seem to still have their reservations when it comes to committing to a social network that so closely resembles Facebook.
This is unfortunate because of all the things that G+ can be, it’s not really a competitor to Facebook, but rather a nice addition to the social networking cocktail party. G+ has become a pleasant middle ground that has managed to blend the public platform experience of Twitter with the personal experience of Facebook, which, in my book, is the thing that sets it apart.
In any event, it is likely that Google will continue to invest in G+ despite the naysayers and that it will morph into a niche community who will make it their own. This is already happening to some extent — G+ boasts a high male demographic while technology and other geek-related stuff seem to occupy a lot of the posts.
The point is that despite its ghost-town reputation, Google+ has many redeeming qualities and it can be a very cool place to digitally “hang out”. Part social network, part utility, we all know it’s never really going to be the “new” Facebook. But sometimes a change is as good as a holiday and spending some time with your circles can sometimes be a refreshing change from the social networks we all frequent.
For even more reasons why G+ could be the social network of the future check out this enlightening infographic.
Do you think Google+ has what it takes to survive in the fickle world of social media? Can you think of any other positive qualities it might posses? Tell us in the comments section below.