Google+ was recently released into public beta and has been rapidly gaining popularity over the past month. Here are my experiences on the new social network from the people that define a lot of what we know as the internet.
What is it?
It’s a new social network created by Google, centered around the idea that you should have as much control over what you share online as what you do offline.
How it works
This central idea around Google+, of sharing online more like in life, is very attractive and has been its biggest pull for new users so far. Since the launch of it’s public beta at the end of June this year it has gained over 20 million users as of mid July. I think just about anyone who has become frustrated with the rigid approach to sharing on the web will relate to this. Content and it’s sharing on the web have been changing drastically in the past couple of years, it is becoming increasingly independent of it’s original location which has given rise to changes in the way people share this content online. Google+ has captured that trend and utilized it in a pretty intuitive and enjoyable way. It will be interesting to see how this develops as the relationships between content and sharing further evolve.
Design & User experience
I like the fact that Google have started incorporating a bit more design into their interfaces at the same time as launching Google+, it definitely helps the experience feel more friendly. For the longest time, Google’s interfaces have been very easy to use but a bit spartan and dry. They obviously realised that building a social network on such a sterile design wouldn’t have been very pleasant.
It’s obvious they’ve spent some real time and money on the interface design and on user experience as a whole. There are some very familiar user patterns here which can arguably be called emerging conventions in social media design, but there are also some very novel new concepts that are genuinely useful.
Circles are how you define the people you add on Google+. The level of control over the relationship between who you add and what you (and they) see is very sophisticated. When you add someone you can define what your relationship to them is in a totally custom manner, and then when you share anything you have complete control over who sees what. The difference here is that you basically have the experience of “following” people on twitter just for their information or being “friends” with someone you know and everything you can think of in between, all in one place, all defined by you. Very convenient and a much more human approach than what we are used to.
I think this model is going to take a little getting used to but it makes a lot of sense for what Google is trying to provide here which is a “general” social network as opposed to something for more narrow purposes like Twitter.
Hangouts are like a cross between Facebook chat and Skype… on steriods. Basically it’s a video chat room that you can activate that anyone in one of your circles (you choose one or more) can drop into and join. The broad concepts themselves aren’t new, but its their specific combination and execution that makes a lot of sense here.
Facebook: Verbose, full of jargon and they basically own your soul. Weighs in at about 6000 words.
Google: = concise, easy to understand, human. Weighs in at about 1000 words.
Lets hope it stays that way!
So it’s yet another social network to use and who needs more, right? The criticisms of Google+ basically sum up as this, that there are already these tools available.
However I think those tools have been considerably improved, steamlined and consolidated into Google+ to match what people actually want to do with them. If you think about what you actually want to do online; share information, communicate with others, have control over your privacy while doing it; these things are being done more effectively and transparently than with other sites right now. The whole thing feels like Google have studied the current big guys , removed the stuff that doesn’t make sense and then bent what’s left into what they think sharing online should be like. And on the whole I think it works.
Personally, I’m partial to Twitter because its set of uses match my specific needs for communication and information sharing, however if the popularity of Google+ means it becomes the default “general” social network and I get to abandon Facebook altogether, I’d be very happy indeed.
What do you think?