An Introduction to Google+

The tech media has spent the vast majority of the last week focused on Google’s newest product, an ambitious platform called Google+ that the company hopes will break through their dry spell in the social arena and make them competitive.

It’s early days — for many people it’s next to impossible to even get in — but things are looking positive. The app has been met by a largely positive reception and my stream shows no sign of slowing down as users keep posting after the novelty wears off.

Circles

Circles is a foundational feature of Google+, and it’s what makes it so different from other social networks — and bridges the gaps between them. With Circles, you control who you share what information with, making mutual relationships where intimate information can be shared, Facebook-style, a possibility, while still allowing the unidirectional model of Twitter that allows you to follow people you find interesting without them having to follow you back.

The interface for organizing your Circles is pretty cool too, but I don’t think it’s the animations that’s blowing people away.

If I want to make a post that is viewable only by my family members, I can. If I want something to be viewable by the public, that’s possible too. There are no “all or nothing” scenarios here as there are with Facebook. This means Google can perform the roles of both Twitter and Facebook and puts it in a very powerful position.

The Circles interface.

Stream

The stream is where you can view incoming information. It’s much like the Facebook news feed or your Twitter stream, but Circles gives you control over what you’re looking at here — it’s not just for deciding who to share content with.

In the screenshot below I’m viewing content that has been shared by people I know from my role at The Next Web. I can easily jump between Friends, Family, Acquaintances, or the Following Circle that’s like a bucket for interesting people I’ve never met.

As is the de facto standard today, the stream updates in real-time. There are some issues that Google engineers are actively working to fix — old posts tend to float to the top more easily than on other networks.

The Google+ stream is the equivalent of your Facebook news feed.

Sparks

Sparks is billed as one of the main features of Google+ but doesn’t get as much airtime at the moment. That’s because it’s one of the few areas where Google seems to have not invested much effort into creating something truly useful. Sparks are feeds of information based on defined topics, but if you take a look in the screenshot below where I’m looking at the pre-defined Spark called “Films” there’s no curation to the content. The second result has something to do with a sniper shooting a civilian who was filming him in Syria — tragic, but not exactly what I’m thinking of when I want information about recent films.

This feature could be a lot better. It could make discovering and subsequently sharing interesting information a breeze, but not until the results are much better. This would be a perfect place for some sort of integration with Google Reader, where the content has already been curated by both publishers and subscribers.

The Sparks interface.

Hangouts

Hangouts is one of the most impressive parts of Google+. The underlying technology isn’t that incredible — we’ve had Skype video conferencing for years. But Hangouts can handle ten or twenty people at a time without problems, and more importantly, it’s not the technology but the execution that makes this feature impressive. Video calls need to be arranged and specific people need to be called in, but with Hangouts, anyone from selected Circles can drop in and out. It’s an evolving social space like your local bar, not a rigid call structure, and that distinction is important. It makes Hangouts pretty revolutionary.

You’re given a chance to fix your hair before you enter a Hangout.

API

No doubt you’re wondering: when’s the API coming? Google says it will be here soon, and if they’re telling the truth they’ll have introduced an API much faster than Facebook did. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of apps come out of Google+ that weren’t possible using other social platforms.

There have been clues that Google+ Games is coming, and rumors that there’s a partnership with social gaming giant Zynga involved. Will Google+ be the next platform for casual game developers to tackle? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m leaving at the first hint of Farmville spam.

What do you think about Google+?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/David.William.Thompson David Thompson

    Looks a bit like a public Yammer system with its groups and optional follows. I am looking forward to trying it…

  • Daneal Kennon

    Loving it! The interface is intuitive. No friend requests I have to deal with. Information I want to see, when I want to see it. Like Twitter, I can read anything by anyone as long as they’re on there and posting.

  • http://twitter.com/graphixdesign GraphicDesign Blog

    Google always have best to offer….I have never liked Facebook, just because for not providing the right privacy. Anyways, this “Google +” seems to be very well categorized but I am waiting to see its additional features which would help a business expand.

    Thanks for explaining these “Google =” features in such a simple and understandable way.

  • http://twitter.com/helennatasha Helen Natasha Moore

    Thanks Joel and Sitepoint. You people have always got everything covered, haven’t you. Great article.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is absolutely brilliant

  • Alex Hall

    I do really like it, but it’s not something I can see my family using for a start. Facebook was always something that families could use to communicate but most of my family think that Google is the Internet and I just don’t see them fitting in very well with Google+. It’s doesn’t look like a social networking site, which for me is a great thing, it’s shiny, new and different. But for the average user they would be expecting the same from Facebook that Google+ doesn’t, and shouldn’t deliver.

    That said, for my other circles it’s absolutely brilliant. Having the ability to select content for certain groups is a truly marvellous idea and one that I never understood Facebook not undertaking. Having to share content with EVERYONE or no-one was always a pain. And now that’s been sorted! I’ll not stop using Facebook, but Google+ will certainly be used for the more technical-minded friends and acquiantance.

    Oh, and great review!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W2HZMWPIHCEHCIJIOCKKHDVNQM blank

    Hopefully the API won’t be a continuously moving target like some other sosh media sites that come to mind.

  • http://twitter.com/patricksamphire Patrick Samphire

    It certainly sounds more interesting and useful than Farmville … er … I mean Facebook. Looking forward to a chance to try it. Circles and Hangout sound really worthwhile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1344014823 Alexander Owain Thorn

    Great review…now to check it out for myself (hey, where’s my invite)?

  • mc

    Only if the people involved have chosen to be part of a certain group. With this, you decide who is in what group.

    • Michael

      No, you can define who can read your status updates, pick and choose by name or by friends lists. People just don’t realize it.

      • Alex Hall

        Which is another of Facebook’s failings… the fact that people don’t know how to do some of the “should be” more simple tasks

      • http://profiles.google.com/fulopattila122 Attila Fulop

        People don’t realize it and fb doesn’t tend to willing to stop the useless gossip-flood that people are doing on fb to each other. I guess the environment highly influences the culture.

      • http://twitter.com/jfalconer Joel Falconer

        You can. But their way of doing it is so ridiculously cumbersome it’s not even really worth mentioning, let alone using.

        It’s my opinion that they intentionally made it a pain to use because of their insane and meaningless goal of forcing us towards “openness.”

  • http://www.techwebtalk.com Pratik Chourdia

    Great Review, I am using Google+ from last 4 days. but didn’t get such practical knowledge as we got from your this review.. awesome

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y7R2Q22GSPY7SE3WMIR5QBXJWE Roseann Chase

    I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get all this stuff, LiveCent.com

  • http://www.insurancegofer.com/auto Auto Insurance Online

    Google+ for businesses is coming out soon… so don’t make a profile yet business owners

  • http://dc13.com/ @desc

    I like google+ so far – I never really got into facebook and I am hoping to get more from google+ but some more users would be good – slightly lonely (ha – said the sad muppet)

  • http://twitter.com/edtancig Ed Tancig

    Can’t wait to try it. Now if I can get my family involved.

  • Leesa Ward

    The layout is quite similar to Facebook, which will help adoption because it doesn’t feel like a learning curve. And it’s taken some of the more useful but difficult features (such as controlling who you share with using defined groups of people, which IS possible on Facebook) and improved upon them. Taking the best of Facebook and Twitter and then adding some other stuff is very smart, rather than reinventing the whole wheel.

  • http://www.chrisfarrellmembershipsitereview.com/ Steve Balliett

    Social media sites still raise questions with me.

    Like reliability, security and dependability. I have not been seeing much of that.

    I can see how they could be helpful in some ways. Yet I am not convinced enough to use them.

    Perhaps as time goes on, I will be able to see more facts that assures me they are OK to use.

    I’m just not there yet.

  • http://www.lakeofarticles.com rohit

    i like Google pluse and hangouts…….awesome……:P