Hands on with Google+

My experience with Google+ began last Thursday evening when I took to Facebook and Twitter and posted the following:

Google+ looks pretty cool. Keen to give it a try… #hinthint #searchingforinvites #rememberyourgoodfriendadam

I was pretty shocked to find that, within a few minutes, I had gotten a reply from somebody who knew somebody…and by the time I woke up on Friday morning, I had a Google+ invite waiting for me in my inbox.

For those of you who don’t know, Google+ is Google’s latest attempt at cracking social — or rather, an attempt to get people to spend more time on Google and less time on Facebook. Google hasn’t had the greatest record with social products over the years. In the past there was Orkut and Google Buzz, with the former failing to gain traction and the latter just plain failing.

The good news is that Google seems to have learnt from its mistakes. Google+ is slick and has a slew of features that fundamentally improve on the concept of online social networking by trying to make it more similar to the way you socialise with people in real life. Nevertheless, people will still be left asking: “Do I really need another social network in my life?”

Granted, most people are already on Facebook. Some are on Facebook and Twitter. Some are even on LinkedIn, Foursquare, Path or one of the other smaller, more niche social networks that are out there. It’s also important to remember, however, that each social network is different, if only slightly.

Facebook is great for sharing photos and stalking people you haven’t seen in ages. Twitter is great for following interesting people and finding out about breaking news. LinkedIn is great for adding people to your network and well, that’s basically all LinkedIn is good for really.

You interact with everyone you’ve ever met on Facebook. You interact with interesting people you’ve never met on Twitter. And you add people you’ve worked with to your professional network — and then never interact with them again — on LinkedIn. So who will you most likely interact with on Google+? The answer might surprise you, but it could very well be your actual friends.

One of the main features of Google+ is Circles, which allows you to divide up your contacts into different groups so you can share relevant information with specific groups. This is interesting because you immediately realise how much you’ve probably been oversharing on most social networks. This makes you think. If nothing else, Google+ exposes a massive flaw in the way online social networks have worked until now.

Another thing about Google+ is that it’s fun. Each idea in Google+ is elegantly executed, including creating circles. You’d think that this would be a real schlep. Instead it’s quick, easy and strangely addictive thanks to some nifty animations.

The Hangouts feature, which supports group video chats for up to ten users free of charge, is a killer feature. It’s bold, it’s fun but it might not be something you use everyday when you’re stuck in the office — except if you use it for business purposes perhaps…

Google+ also has a minimalist design that is typical of almost every Google product, which makes it feel less cluttered than Facebook. And while this could still change in the coming months, there aren’t any ads on Google+. There aren’t any people trying to get you to “+1” (Google+’s version of ‘liking’) something to win an iPad. And brands will probably have a harder time ambushing you on Google+ than they do on Facebook, but like I said, this could all change.

Google+ also gives you almost complete control over your privacy settings. The level of privacy is closely tied with the “only share specific things with relevant people” philosophy of social networking. In this regard, Google+ is completely different from Facebook.

So, will Google+ be a success? Will it kill Facebook? I’d say “yes” to the first question and “probably not” to the second. I think Facebook is so large and so ubiquitous that the majority of users won’t abandon it for Google+. I do think, however, that Facebook will have to make a number of drastic changes and fast. Google+ “borrows” quite a lot from Facebook and I would be shocked if Facebook didn’t do the same with some of Google+’s cooler features.

But it’s also important to remember that Google+ isn’t finished. Over the next few months, you can expect new features and tighter integration with other Google products and services, including (I would imagine): Google Maps, Google Places and Google Latitude. Gradual improvements to the Google+ Android and yet-to-be-released iPhone app won’t hurt Google+’s chances either.

Google+ probably won’t kill Facebook but it has sent the world’s largest social network a strong message. After rewatching The Social Network, I was reminded of how important being ‘cool’ and ‘exclusive’ was to the success of Facebook. Facebook might be at risk of looking dated but you can bet it won’t be giving up without a fight. So if you manage to get an invite to Google+, give it a try and make up your own mind. Google and Facebook might not be friends but you don’t have to choose one or the other.



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