On Google Plus (with recommended reads)

Google Plus is being rolled out gradually via invitation, and it is still clearly in the testing phase. However, it is quite a development on the social media front, and one that I am particularly interested in.

I see Google Plus as a more organizable, less embarrassing, cleaner version of Facebook. Now, will it be that for everyone? No, absolutely not. But I think it can be that if I want it to be. That customization is much more possible with Google Plus. The “Circles” feature allows you to essentially categorize people into neat and tidy distinctions. You can have as many as you want, but Google gives you some ideas — friends, acquaintances, family and follows (yes, like Twitter, interesting people you don’t actually know). People can be members of more than one circle. And when you post things, you decide who you want to share them with. So, unlike posting to a Facebook wall, it is sharing things with specific circles or people.

On the flip side, the more passive experience that embodies most time spent on social media sites is also organized by circles. You can view the “stream,” which is the equivalent of a news feed, as a whole or separated by circle. So if you only want to see news from your real friends, click on the friends circle stream. When you want to keep up with old acquaintances, you can do that. Or you can follow celebrities.

Some other quick notes from my experience:

  • They seem to have spent a lot of time on figuring out the sharing concept, as it plays a very prominent role, and rightly so. But now they should probably think of a better way to show what has been shared with whom. There is a feature where you can view your profile as another person would see it (you pick the person, and their view obviously changes based on their circle) but the labels on each post are not very consistent or clear right now, so that is one thing that I believe could help the site shine more.
  • The +1 button isn’t anything special, but it is effective as a competitor to the “like” button.
  • Sparks, which is a news sharing feature that lets you get streams of information on topics of your choosing, needs some work. It isn’t nearly as intelligent as Google News or Google Reader. I feel like that is easily corrected. The Sparks feature doesn’t seem to place any importance on the source. Personally, I would like to be able to pick and choose my sources both as streams of information and within streams of information. Narrowing down the topics some could help, but I think Google will have a better version of this ready before Plus goes totally public. It would aid the site greatly if it could add that dimension of news delivery. I feel like if Sparks is improved, it would give you exactly what you want but with minimal effort. Twitter can currently deliver results, but it takes some work on the user’s part. Facebook delivers a mish-mash of random things that doesn’t really constitute a consistent diet of news unless one of your friends runs an aggregation site.
  • Hangout, which is video chat, with multi-person capability, is very cool and seems to have spurred Facebook toward a Skype partnership.
  • Google Plus seems like it could be utilized in many ways for business/organizations, partially because of the Circles feature (Facebook groups are great and all, but they aren’t very practical or private) and partially because of the integration with the rest of Google’s tools. I know Google Docs is my go-to group planning tool right now. Google Plus can only make online group organization and communication better and more integrated.
  • There isn’t any obvious way for organizations to make profiles that stand out from individuals. But hopefully that distinction and some features to go with it (polls, etc.) will be rolled out soon.

I personally see a lot of potential for Google Plus, mainly because of its versatility. From a single profile, you could have a LinkedIn type of experience with business associates and colleagues, a Facebook experience with close friends and a Twitter experience with the people who fascinate you. Granted, Google got into this social networking game late (or at least this seemingly viable product came in late) but it does offer something truly unique — a social network that is what you want it to be. And if that doesn’t fit Google’s mission, I don’t know what does.

For some other thoughts on Google Plus, take a look at these links, which offer some different perspectives.

Review: Google Plus thoughtful answer to Facebook by the Associated Press

Venturing into the wild west of Google Plus by Eliza Kern

Google+ vs. Facebook: The Trust Factor by James Fallows, The Atlantic (also some good links inside this piece)

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