Photo by Ahmd Zizo
No, Google Plus – Google+ or just plain G+ for short – is definitely not (just) buzz. Luckily, it’s not another Buzz, Orkut or Wave either – to name three not-so-successful Google experiments within social media. Actually, I don’t think Google+ can be compared to any of the earlier Google initiatives in social because this time it might be more about corporate wide policy change than just launching a new social playground. Google has traditionally been focusing on providing relevant search results and then sending the visitors away in all conceivable directions on the web. Now the search giant wants us to stay and communicate in their virtual Plex, an approach not completely different from that of another quite well known social media web giant..
So, what is it?
Google+ is a social network but it sure is not The Social Network! Even though Google+ has been growing incredibly fast since the June 28 2011 field trial launch it can’t, of course, match Facebook’s huge user base anytime soon. Copying Facebook wouldn’t make much sense anyway so Google has been concentrating on some key issues from the very beginning:
- A non-cluttered (and fun!) user interface
Google takes pride in extremely minimalistic and effective web design (yawn..) but this time something is different: there’s nothing boring at all about the very clean Google+ user interface, on the contrary! A former Mac design guru called the shots when building the Google+ user experience and that turned out to be an extremely smart move.
- Easy sharing – and privacy when you want it
Sharing is in the DNA of Google+ and the Circles feature is a hit. No problems whatsoever keeping the family members, co-workers and other groups separate and it’s kinda hard making a post public by mistake. Circles do make G+ very interesting for educators – let’s just hope that the 18 years age limit will be changed soon (most probably when G+ goes public). Circles are not a clone of the Facebook list feature, either – G+ relationships are asymmetric and this notion is the very core in G+ connections.
- Group video conferencing
Do we have, at last, a well functioning – and free! – tool to instantly arrange video conferences without any additional software? The G+ Hangouts tool is already very impressive and works fine for groups up to ten people. Hangouts just might become the killer feature of Google+.
- Mobile integration
The future is mobile and Google+ has a very obvious advantage here: more than half a million Android handsets are activated every day! For an Android user, it’s natural to try out the built-in Google services – soon including Google+. The Android G+ app works fine already and updates are rolling out very fast. Perhaps my favorite mobile feature so far is the Instant Upload of photos and videos from my smartphone to Google’s ‘photo cloud’, PicasaWebAlbums. Works like a charm!
- Data export without any drama
You own your data, not anyone else – this message from Google has been very clear for quite a while now (even though there’s still no easy way of downloading everything from your Gmail account, I think, even when using GoogleTakeout). As to G+ all it takes is a couple of clicks and you’ve got all of your stuff in your own computer. No hidden hard-to-find settings!
What is missing?
Quick answer: a lot! It’s no wonder, either, since G+ has – at the time of this writing – only been around a bit longer than a month and is still in invitation-only field trial. The Google+ of today is a (surprisingly stable) rough framework and I believe tons of new features and tweaks will be introduced in quick succession when the integration of the key Google services moves along. Some of the first ones to show up might be GoogleTranslate (remember the automatic translation in Wave?) and especially Search+! Amazingly enough there is no built-in search in G+ yet even though there are workarounds available.
The future of Google+
The #1 question is, of course: can Google+ become a Facebook killer? I don’t even try to answer this but I doubt that ‘beating Facebook’ is one of the main goals of the Google+ Project. Offering a very attractive alternative, however, might be one of those goals and in that case it’s a very feasible one. I don’t think anyone believes that hundreds of millions of Facebook users would all of a sudden jump ship and migrate to Google+. However, Google has some very large pools of existing and potential future users: Gmail (200 million monthly users), YouTube and especially all Android devices. Gmail users are perhaps those most likely to get started with Google+ right away, smart YouTube integration should attract young people who otherwise would never stray away from Facebook and last but not least: the Android devices will bring huge numbers of users straight to Google+.
Then, question #2: can Google+ match Twitter? Well, here we’ve got another question that’s really hard to answer, mainly because Twitter and Google+ function very differently. Google+ is a full blown networking site including threaded conversations that are easy to follow; Twitter is a (micro)blog offering mainly one-to-many publishing with a feedback loop. To me, conversations are clunky on Twitter but the service is a great way of quickly getting in touch, acquiring assistance and gathering information. In other words, G+ does not replace Twitter any more than Facebook does. Check out this great infographic comparing G+, Twitter and FB signed Stefano Epifani, by the way.
All in all, Google+ should be facing a bright future, providing they don’t mess things up big time. The real names issue and especially the slightly random(?) banning of brand G+ accounts were not dealt with very well, putting it mildly, but at least Google agreed they had screwed up!
It will be interesting to see how much of the content on G+ will pop up on other social networks. I’m not quite sure how I feel about ‘blasting’ all status updates and blog posts out to every social forum out there, even though I do occasionally cross post a bit myself.. Perhaps a Tweet can spark (no, I don’t mean a Spark!) a discussion that continues on G+, for example. One of many G+ Chrome extensions, StartGPlus, enables you to both read FB and Twitter streams within G+ and also post to these services from there.
I’ve been using many Google tools extensively ever since the Gmail beta became available back in 2004 and it sure would be a tough call if I’d get locked out from my account, for whatever reason. Google has never been extremely well known for great customer service – actually, I heard they once considered using random answers to support requests, ouch! – so the day I can’t log in will most probably be the first of quite a few bad days. These dark thoughts were triggered (again) by this post.. But hey, I’ll take some precautions and dive right in to G+ anyway!
In case you’d like to check out some Google+ services, guides and walkthroughs, there is a good list available by Mashable and quite an extensive collection of G+ posts through Marie Linder’s ScoopIt.