So, the other day, I got an invite to Google Plus that turned out to take me to a page that told me the Google Plus beta was closed. I was sorely disappointed, but luckily I got a real invitation that let me in later on in the day.
For the last two days, I’ve been playing around with Google Plus. I’ve tried out their features, chatted with some friends in my circles, hungout, and found a few bugs as well.
Here’s some of my first impressions of Google Plus.
Google Plus Overview
Ok, first off, if you’ve been away from the internet or otherwise sequestered (for the 12 jurors on the Casey Anthony trial), Google Plus is Google’s newest social networking product.
Google has taken another step in expanding into the social networking market. Google plus approaches social networking from a different angle. Rather than networking to one huge group, Google plus takes the concept that people have different categories of friends and puts them into circles.
Whereas Facebook is adamantly against creating lists, Google embraces creating lists in circles.
Beyond that, Google has a stream of updates very similar to Facebook, with the major difference being that you can limit the circles that are able to see your stream.
Everything starts with your circles.
However, Google Plus then gives you a couple of features that makes your social network more interactive.
They’ve created a hangout feature that allows video conferencing with 10 of your closest friends at a time. And they have a spark feature, which is just a simple way to see the latest news in your field of interests and share them with your circles.
Getting the Invite
Before I start giving the hands on, I did discover a unique quirk of Google Plus that was likely the cause of my delayed invitation.
When you get into Google Plus, you’ll notice a button in the bottom right sidebar for inviting others into Google Plus. It looks like this:
When I talk to my friends that are in google plus, it’s very natural for them to immediately think of using this button to invite people into the social network. The problem is that this invitation doesn’t work very well.
This invitation sends people to the main Google Plus screen where they will often see this message:
I wrote about this experience in my last post about getting a Google Plus invitation.
So, my recommendation is to not use that method to send out invites because it’s hit or miss.
I found that the better way to send out invites is to add the people that you want to invite to your circles. Then send out an update in your stream for that circle. When you do that, it gives you the option to invite all the people in the circle that are not already on Google Plus.
This second method sends out a working link in an email to your invitees. This email link appears to be consistent in actually getting a person into Google Plus.
This is kind of a strange work around, but it works.
Hands on With Google Plus
Ok, now that I got into Google Plus. I eagerly jumped around trying out it’s features.
I was most excited to try out Google Hangouts as it seems to have a lot of potential for interaction.
I was able to start a hangout with a friend and have a pretty good experience with the video chat.
I found that the quality of the video chat was almost on par with skype. I did experience a little bit of lag, so overall I think skype is slightly better. However, I would say that the difference is negligible enough that Hangouts is a solid competitor.
One thing that I though was interesting was the ability in Hangouts to share a youtube video with your friends.
A simple click of the youtube button at the bottom of your hangout screen brings up the youtube screen. Now you just select a video and all your friends in the hangout can watch it with you.
I can see people having a lot of fun with this options.
The more utilitarian use would be to set up simple webinars. The host can create a youtube tutorial video and then walk people through the video through the chat. The ability to be able to take questions, pause the video, and answer the questions is simply awesome.
Having the chat feature alongside the video interface was a simple, but brilliant idea. In the chat interface, my friend and I were able to quickly share links to other websites, while talking about it at the same time. This made it very easy to stay on the same page (so to speak).
One thing that Google Hangouts is missing is an interactive whiteboard. That would really complete this feature. Instead, I found myself sometimes drawing things on a piece of paper and holding it up to the camera to demonstrate some concepts that require some visualization.
I have yet to coordinate a large hangout, as I find my friends are coming online at all different times. I’m looking forward to see how it works when there is a large group in the hangout. If the quality doesn’t degrade, I can really see this feature winning out over skype.
Google sparks is a really simple way to catch up on and share news from all over with your circles.
When you first click on sparks, it gives you some default categories, but you can always search for your own interests like so:
You can then click on the add interest button and pin that interest to your sparks list. In theory, this should make it really easy to get updates to your sparks. I did find it a bit buggy as I pinned several interests, but they disappeared when I logged back in.
When you find an interesting spark, you can simply hit the share button below the the spark to share it with your circles.
Once you share the spark it will show up in your stream. The beauty of this is that once something is in your stream, others can share that update with their circles as well. This has great potential to make news go viral.
Your Google Stream
This brings me to the Google Stream.
The interesting thing about Google Plus is that you can add anyone to your circles. There’s no need to send out a friend request and wait for the them to accept your request. Once you’ve added someone to your circle, you can immediately start seeing their updates.
It seems to me that Google gave some thought to figuring out the best way to ensure that news gets shared. When you post an update to your stream, your news immediately gets shared with your selected circles and anyone that is following you. If there are people who are not yet on the Google Plus social network, they will get an email with your news and the option to join Google Plus.
As I stated earlier, I could immediately see the potential for updates in your stream to go viral.
One thing you need to be careful about is that the circles feature does provide a false sense of privacy when you update your stream. Even though you can set your updates only to specific circles, Google defaults to allowing people in your circle to re-share your updates.
If you want news items to remain in your circle (What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas) then you can turn off re-sharing for that specific update.
At this time, it looks like you have to disable the function with each post. Google really should have a default selection for this function. Until they do, keep in mind that your posts are not as private as you think.
Google Plus Features I want
So, far I really like Google Plus. I can see that it has a lot of potential to share news throughout your social network. Also, there’s a lot of functions that nurture a very interactive environment. For a new social networking product, Google Plus really got all the fundamentals right.
Still, there are a couple of features I’d really love to see implemented.
- First off, I have yet to find a way to easily tell when my friends are online. There is a chat feature that is supposed to tell you when people are available to chat, but so far, I’ve found it buggy. It only appears to work sporadically and doesn’t show all my friends. I’ve found myself in a hangout with a friend who didn’t even show up in my available chat list. I would say that this is a function where Facebook really wins out over Google Plus.
- I’d love to have a feature in hangout to show my desktop and an interactive whiteboard feature would really be awesome. I can definitely see people making use of more interactive features in the hangout.
- Finally, it would be nice to see some more obvious privacy functions. Circles really only gives you the illusion of privacy because everyone in your circle has the ability to re-share. The one thing they should really do is create a default function to disable re-sharing for all your posts. That way there won’t be any mistaken re-shared posts.
Google+ is a feature rich social networking platform that really has a lot of nuances. I can see that it will become a big player in social networking and may even become a strong Facebook competitor. I can already see that they will get many people to join simply through their invitation system of sending out emails to your friends who are not already on Google+.
I’ve only touched on the major features of Google Plus and already I’m really enjoying the experience.
If you’re already on Google Plus, please share your thoughts on the social network.
What do you think about Google Plus?
Is Google Plus a Facebook Killer?