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Despite shattering all records by gaining 10 million users in two weeks, and another 8 million the following week, Google+ is hardly the polished platform many were expecting. The new social network is still in its beta testing phase, so the issues will be fixed in future, but there are several problems already and users are clamouring for Google to fix them. Aside from the predictable bugs and server crashes, here are the top three things which just aren’t working well yet.
Google+ is trying to be and do a lot of things at once. Not only is it a platform for socially sharing media with specifically defined groups of contacts (called circles), it’s also a blog aggregator, photo-sharing tool, instant messenger, video chat portal and public profile.
The problem with all of these aspects is twofold. First, it makes Google+ appear very decentralised. While the chat stream is the default home location, even this page includes links to contacts, chat and sparks (aggregated articles on specific topics). It’s very hard to define what Google+ actually does or what role it fills.
Second, it makes using the social network very complex. For example, before you can share or receive messages, you need to put contacts into circles. But a contact can be in several circles at once, and you can mistakenly add the same person if they are using a different email address. Something that should be very simple is made complex by the sheer number of steps involved. And since there’s no one-click sharing web tool yet, users have to keep logging in and manually entering content.
2. Not enough control for the stream
The stream – the main content hub of Google+ – has almost no tools for customisability or control. Currently, you can choose either to read all your contacts’ posts at once (in the generic stream view) or you can view content from just one circle (by clicking on its name). But there’s no way to view content from, say, two circles at once, or to hide all but one circles from the stream feed. The result is that users have to add people to multiple circles, rather than just combining circles as need be.
In addition, there’s little one can do to filter or manage the individual posts. You see all comments on a contact’s post, even if they are by people you haven’t added (particularly irksome if the post has been reshared from someone outside your circles). Blocking a contact only removes future posts by them, but leaves current ones intact.
“Plus-one”ing a post (the equivalent to Liking) doesn’t seem to have much effect and there is nowhere to see all posts that you have clicked on. Overall, the stream needs a lot of refinement to become truly useful and worthwhile. Other areas of the interface suffer too — for example, you cannot choose to see photos from just one circle; it’s all or nothing.
3. Endless notifications
One of the biggest complaints about Google+ is the endless stream of email notifications every time somebody adds you to a circle, comments on a post, tags you in a photo and so on. While there are now custom contact settings that allow you to switch these off, this should have been better thought through. On top of the emails, users receive in-browser notifications of Google+ activity if they are logged in to a Google Account website (like Gmail or Google Docs) and a constant stream of suggestions and links in the right hand column on Google+ itself. The various channels also take a while to update, so it’s possible to add someone to a circle from Google+, and still have them register as un-added in the notification bar.
Google+ looks pretty and feels as though it should be a great platform — and it takes privacy seriously, which is a major boon. Unfortunately, when compared to the slick and simple offerings of competitors like Facebook and Twitter, it still has a long way to go.