Google+ Review : First Impressions

Its been called a lot of things already; from the overly ambitious like “Facebook killer”, “The Next Big Thing” to the downright pessimistic like “Facebook wannabe” , “yet another Wave/Buzz”. Twitter is abuzz with discussions on what it is and what its not and people who got the first invites are the envy of everyone, and the ones who haven’t are pleading for invites. Yes, its Google brand new ‘project’ called Google+. It was announced rather quietly yesterday (I have known this coming for more than two weeks now though) and is only available to a limited number of users (Googlers have been using it for some time now though). For people who haven’t got the invite yet, the dark black bar on top of Google sites is an indication of things to come.

Anyways, enough of introduction, lets dive straight in.

The first change you will notice is the top bar. On the top left corner there will be a ‘+You'(Your Name) while on the top right is the sharing and notifications menu, which lets to share an update from any Google site.

          

The Google+ Welcome Page

The Welcome page is clutter free and shows your Circles and Sparks on the left and the people in your Circle on the right.

On the top you will four buttons, viz Home, Photos, Profile and Circles

Your Google+ Profile

The Google+ Profile is very similar to the Google Profile that you are familiar with. The Google+ Profile page shows your Personal Description, Posts, Photos (from Picasa), Videos, +1’s and Buzzes. And considering that your Google+ profile is viewable to others even if they don’t have a Google+ account (mine is https://plus.google.com/116322461685718405670), it will serve as your web calling card of sorts, just like about.me.

Your Google+ Profile shows photos from your public Picasa albums. Besides, any photos you upload to Google+ gets saved into Picasa. With Facebook increasingly becoming a photo-sharing tool off late luring users away from Flickr and Picasa, the integration of Picasa in Google+ is sure to be a compelling proposition for users considering that they can edit their images offline through the Picasa desktop app and sync them with Picasa and thereby Google+. This is something Facebook does not do (yet).

Your Google+ Home

Your Google+ Home page shows streams from all your Circles just like Google Buzz or your Facebook wall. On the right is a list of people in your Circles. On the left is a list of your Circles followed by two links ‘Incoming’ and ‘Notifications’. ‘Incoming’ shows a list of posts where your are tagged but the people who created those are not in any of your Circles. ‘Notifications’ is self explanatory, it shows new activities in all posts created by you, commented by you or where you have been mentioned.

And Photos of You and Your Contacts

Clicking on Photos shows Photos shared with you by everyone in your Circles. You can reshare or comment on those. Here again, Google+ scores over Facebook.

Google+ Circles

Google circles is basically your contact or relationship manager and probably one of the first things you will set up after you log in to your Google+ account. Google has obviously learnt a lesson from the privacy concerns raised by Buzz and has made contact management a key feature of Google+. It is obviously way better than the current Contact management feature available in Gmail or even the ‘Lists’ feature of Facebook. However, with users having hundreds of contacts it remains to be seen to what extent people go towards organizing their contact into ‘Circles’

With Circles you are expected to organize your contacts into Social Circles (similar to Groups or Lists) and you can share your updates exclusively with the chosen circles, implying that your boss will not be able to read your ‘esteemed’ about him. Adding contacts to a Circle is easy, just click to select your contacts and drag them all together to the circle.

The Google Video on Circles explains the concept brilliantly and much better than I could with a screencast and my husky voice. Check it out.

One you have organized your contacts into Circles, you can view ‘Streams’ of content from each of them, either individually or collectively. You can also import contacts from Yahoo and Hotmail into Google+. Sadly, you cannot as of yet import contacts from Facebook; however there is a workaround for this, just import your Facebook contacts into Yahoo and then import your Yahoo contacts to Google+

Google+ Sparks

Spark is all about discovering and sharing content that you are interested in. Sparks aggregates and displays content based on a keyword like “Music”, “Cars”, “Movies”, “Heavy Metal” (similar to iGoogle Tabs which displayed information by default based on the name of the tab) using Google’s expertise at search. You can then share these within your Circles and discuss and comment on these. You can select from any of the featured interests or choose an interest of your own like “books” or “economics”.

The concept of Spark is not revolutionary. Google Reader has been there for ages, so has Digg and with Google’s +1 your shared links are available to your contacts. However, Spark has the potential to combine all of these into a whole, making it far more usable and accessible. Hopefully, in the near future we will be able to +1 on content which will then be ‘streamed’ to contacts within our Circles who share similar interest. So, if I +1 an article on Robotics, contacts in my Circles who also have a ‘spark’ for Robotics, will find it in their Spark feed. While Spark does not yet do anything similar, it does seem to be the logical course of development for Spark.

Google+ Hangout 

Hangout takes the green ‘Available’ icon of Google Chat to dizzying heights. A hangout is basically an always on multiuser (actually up to 10 simultaneous users only as of writing this) video chatting feature. You can invite your Circles or even a single person to a Hangout, and if they are free they will join in. Basically, by creating and announcing a Hangout you tell people in your Circle that you are available for video chat (just like hanging out at a bar). So instead of pinging people on chat as we are used to (and often disturbing them in the process), Google+ will allow you to be polite and let people to join in a hangout with you if and when they are free. Now that’s getting social.

And I almost forgot…

Google+ lets you do good old chat too just like Gmail Chat. Besides you can choose to enable chat to selected Circles, a very important feature the way I see it. However, for some strange reason it isn’t showing all my online contacts (the way Gmail usually shows) and is instead showing a few online contacts I chatted with after I created my Google+ account, followed by contacts I had marked “Always show” on Gmail followed by an alphabetical list of contacts. I guess this will be taken care of before Google rolls it out to the public at large. I have already given feedback to Google+ developers for the same.

That pretty much covers everything about Google+ so far. And yes, try this: create a Circle and then delete it. See what happens.

About the design

Google is poised for a change in look and feel and the black bar on top is just the beginning of things to come. Google appointed Andy Hertzfeld, once a self appointed “Software Wizard” at Apple and member of the Macintosh team, to design it’s UI for Google+ and the difference is apparent. There are swooshing animations and a very refined look and feel, very different from Google’s usual spartan look and feel.

Apparently, Andy was given a free hand at the Google+ UI and he has delivered. I guess it’s time Gmail UI got a major face lift too. What say Mr. Hertzfeld?

The Million..err..Billion Dollar question

Is Google+ a Facebook Killer? Your guess is as good as mine. Facebook already has a 700 million head start over Google+ and users are familiar with Facebook. So it’s highly unlikely that users will make a shift overnight. However, Google+ looks promising and I have hopes for it.

So whats going for Google+ ? Very simply, Google’s already tried and tested popular line of products.Well for starters, the huge 200 million plus Gmail user base which guarantees that Google+ will not have to work very hard to get a decent initial user base. Google’s search prowess and News will help Spark ensure that users get information that is very relevant to their interests. In fact, if Google wants to rival Facebook and ensure people spend more time on Google+  than on Facebook, Spark will have to be a key ingredient of that strategy. Also compared to Google+(and Picasa), Facebook’s photo sharing capabilities are pedestrian (and that recent black background behind photos in Facebook isn’t helping either). Facebook chat has never been my preferred way of chatting, to the extent that I have often asked people to shift over to Gmail (in once instance I even got a particularly hot chick to sign up for Gmail just because I hated chatting with her on Facebook) just to chat and Facebook is yet to roll out video chat. Google+, leveraging on already existing Google technology, has pretty much left the competition far far behind. Buckle up, Facebook.

The near and somewhat distant future

One of the reasons, Google+ has not been released to public at large is that it’s not yet ready for the average (skeptical) user. There are no quizzes, questions or even games like Facebook and therefore the new user may soon lose interest. Which is why I believe those would be the first new additions to Google+ that we will see. Florian Rohrweck, a coder, entrepreneur and avid blogger, who has a knack of uncovering secret Google products, has proof that Google plans to add gift, games and questions into Google+ very soon. Besides, (hopefully) Google+ can leverage on Google Wave extensions like Unawave, TravelwithMe, HostelWithMe, WhenDoWeMeet (its one of those features I really want to see in Google+), Waffle etc. Document Sharing and collaborative editing with people from your Circle by interoperability with Google Docs should be another addition and a very helpful one at that. Creating and sharing events through Google Calendar (and collaborative event creation a la WhenDoWeMeet) should provide a complete and comprehensive online experience.

Google+ then is not revolutionary, its evolutionary. And that’s fine. As long as users get a seamless, well connected online experience, Google+ should be able to become a successful product. While it’s too early and utterly naive to comment on whether it will beat Facebook, give it 2 years and it would surely have a sizeable user count. Google+ is, as Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Google, explains is an incremental step in uniting Google’s large array of products into a cohesive whole, a complete online social web experience.

Google+ has a few celebrity users already. Larry Page and Sergey Brin are there, and so are many other Googlers, names of some of them you might already know. Apparently Asthon Kutcher too wants and invite. Yes, Google+ will need celeb users to be on board for it to succeed, after all a lot of people keep Twitter accounts just so they can learn when there favourite celebs go to get grocery.

Google+ users cannot send invites yet as Google does not think the product is ready for a wide release and they have good reasons for this. That being said, too much delay will kill the hype around the product resulting in lesser users signing up while it will also simultaneously bore the existing users (something that happened with Wave). Of course, Google could do well to keep cynical celebrity bloggers and social media ‘experts’ out for the time being; these people are quick to predict doom and gloom and generate negative perception around a product (like they did with Wave and then Buzz). Hopefully, by the time new invites are sent, a few new features will have been added to Google+ and there will be enough content streaming around to keep these new users engaged.

I am personally ready to give Google+ up to a year to tune things and add up features before I pass a verdict on it. Incidentally, I am a fanatic Google Buzz user and I still visit my Wave and WaveSandBox accounts once in a while.

Hope you liked this post. Would love to know your views through comments.

PS: I am not sure I can send you an invite as and when it becomes available. I already have a long list of people waiting for invites from me. 😉

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5 thoughts on “Google+ Review : First Impressions

  1. Facebook has the obvious head start but if there’s one thing where Google is far ahead then it has got to be “Photo sharing”. I haven’t got the invite yet. But from reviews, I guess that’s the area google might target… Nice observations!

    • thanks for the comments.. I think what will work for Google+ is the photo sharing and hangouts.. Also Spark has potential when combined with Reader, +1 and google’s search capability

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