A Review of Google+

Since the launch of [Google+][1] last month, I’ve seen quite a few blog posts about whether Google+ has anything new to offer in the social media space, or indeed whether it will even _survive_. I thought I could maybe add my tuppenceworth for good measure.

When I first heard about Google+, I couldn’t wait to take a look – the [demo videos][2] I saw on the Google Blog were incredibly slick, but didn’t really seem to give too much away. It’s only this last weekend, that I finally got an invite to the site and got started.

### First impressions

As I gleaned from the launch videos, the site is slick, uncluttered and well designed. Google have really given this some thought; the site looks modern and fresh. There is a nicely laid out help section, but it’s not easy to find. If you hunt hard enough, you’ll find it underneath the cog symbol on the Google+ Bar (their menu bar across the top of the page).

Now I’ve used Google+, the recent restyling of the web search result page makes total sense. It’s to give better visual integration between the different Google products. In the last day or two, they’ve also rebranded the calendar to match.

Another big win… I don’t get disturbed by countless requests to become a farmer, or manage a city, or answer inane personal questions about my friends.

### Integration

Integration with other Google products is a huge plus for Google+. I often sit with [Gmail][3] open in my browser all day. I also have my social media open… the [Facebook][10] web page and [MetroTwit][4], my current [Twitter][11] client of choice.

With Google though, everything is in once place. The new Google+ bar appears across the top of GMail, [Google Docs][8] and [Picasa Web Albums][7]. It has a number of features including a prominent notification icon to indicate when there’s something interesting I might want to look at, and even the functionality to share something with my Google+ contacts right from the menu bar. These functions are missing from the Google+ bar on the [calendar][9] for some reason though.

This is a huge plus point for me… having everything available from one portal to keep my PC decluttered.

Albums and photos from Picasa can be easily shared to your Google+ account. This integration alone is probably enough to stop me using [Flickr][5] and switch to Picasa instead.

### Privacy and Security

Everything’s in SSL! OK, so Facebook have started offering this, but it’s an opt-in thing that (I suspect) the vast majority of users don’t switch on. In fact, Facebook’s version is quite annoying, as any applications on your homepage that don’t support SSL result in a certificate warning in your browser for insecure content.

Google+ brings **circles** to the table for controlling who sees your post. In [his review][6], [@martinfowler](http://twitter.com/martinfowler “Martin Fowler – Twitter”) suggests that Circles are something new that neither Facebook nor Twitter offers. I’m not sure I agree. Facebook allows adding your friends to lists, and everything you post can be restricted to a set of people or lists by clicking the padlock icon immediately to the left of the “Share” button. However, I think one crucial difference is that Google+ pushes this choice in your face, and part of publishing an update is explicitly choosing which circles to make the post available to. With Facebook, this seems like an afterthought, and hence the mast majority of Facebook posts are visible to all friends (even the dodgy bloke you went to school with decades ago and has probably been in and out of prison a few times since). Google+ offers you a default set of circles to start with: Family, Friends, Acquaintances and Following. You can add a contact to more than one circle, and you can share a post with any number of circles.

The security model is so feature-rich, that I can even choose to share part of my profile only with selected circles. This is something Facebook doesn’t have. For example, Google+ gives me the option to share my employment history with all of my circles, but my places lived with just Friends and Family. Facebook gives me limited options like Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends and Just Me.

If you’re tagged in album, that tag doesn’t automatically get made public – you have to approve it first. If someone tags a picture of you throwing up after too much drink, that’s not instantly going to be made public to all of your contacts. You can edit your profile to allow tags made by certain circles to be automatically approved if you’d like (I don’t think Aunty Mable will be tagging any defamotary images of me for example).

When viewing my profile, there’s a big option right at the top of the page to let me view the profile as it appears to another user. This is great. Check regularly to ensure that nothing sensitive is being “leaked out”. Yes, I know Facebook offers this, but it’s hidden deep inside the settings somewhere, and if I recall correctly they keep moving it (making it pretty hard to find at times!)

Fed up of Google+? You can download all of your data and delete your account. It’s not hidden… just go to “Account Settings -> Data liberation” to get at your data… photos, profile data, stream data, circles and contacts, you name it. At the time of writing, Facebook have a lot of catching up to do in this respect, that’s for sure!

### Your Friend Doesn’t Use Google+? No Problem

You can add contacts to your circles even if they’re not Google+ users (as long as they have an email address). When you post an upate, you can tick a box to send an email of the update to your non-Google+ friends. This is innovative, but if I was the recipient, I’m not sure how much I’d appreciate getting updates from someone if I wasn’t an avid social network user?

### What Else Is There

##### Hangout

Hangout is a live multi-person video chat. Signing in to Hangout is like saying, “Hey, I’m hanging out, come and chat with me”. I haven’t used it yet (I don’t have enough friends on the service), but it looks fantastic. This, I have not seen anywhere else apart from the paid edition of [Skype][12].

##### Instant Upload

I’m not sure whether I think this is a good idea, or whether it violates my privacy a _little_ too much. I can’t use it as it’s ony available on the Android mobile app for now (and I’m an iPhone user). You can set your phone to automatically upload every photo you take to a private web album. Then, from anywhere, you can choose to share some of these photos with your contacts.

I wonder whether this will be possible on the iPhone version of the application. I suppose it all depends on what hooks are available in the iOS operating system, but I suspect this may not be possible on the platform.

##### Sparks

At the moment, I don’t know whether this is a gimmick or something I’ll find useful. Basically, you store a list of Google search terms, and they appear in your left hand menu. Click on them, and you’ll be presented with a list of hits published recently on the web. Each of the results can then easily be shared with your contacts (using the usual method where you specify which circles etc. receive the notification).

Personally, I’d love it if I could subscribe to RSS Feeds in Sparks… now _that_ would be useful.

##### Huddle

This is supposed to be some kind of group chat, I think. At least, that’s what I worked out from the marketing video. I can’t tell you any more as I can’t find it on my account. Maybe it’s not live yet…? Maybe it’s suppressed in the UK, as there’s a [trademark dispute][13] going on with a London startup over the name.

### What’s Missing – Channels

I can’t take any credit for this idea. I was reading a [blog post][14] by [@davidebbo](http://twitter.com/davidebbo “David Ebbo – Twitter”), and I just thought that what he had to say was a fantastic idea. David promotes the idea of channels…

If I write about personal things and also work techy things, I could configure my account to have two channels. When I post something, I can optionally choose to publish it to one of my channels. When one of my contacts adds me to a circle, they can just choose to add a subset of my channels. For example, most people in my family would only choose the “Personal” channel, so they wouldn’t see loads of posts about software development that they’re not interested in at all.

Currently, I mostly use Twitter for technical stuff, and Facebook for personal things. It would be great to have one service that I could post everything to, but allowing my followers to filter what they see of me. +1 for this idea Mr Ebbo! If this were implemented, I think it might be the single most compelling reason to jump ship and use Google+ (apart from the fact that very few people are on there yet)!

### Summary

Google+ can survive, and I _really_ hope that it does. They have some compelling features that beat Facebook hands down. Google has a billion users using its search… the question is, can Google convert these search users into Google+ users? Google+’s future depends on it.

[1]: http://plus.google.com/ “Google+”
[2]: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-google-project-real-life.html “Google+ Launch Announcement”
[3]: https://mail.google.com/ “Gmail – Google’s email offering”
[4]: http://www.metrotwit.com/ “MetroTwit Twitter client”
[5]: http://flickr.com “Flickr”
[6]: http://martinfowler.com/bliki/SocialNetworks.html “SocialNetworks – Martin Fowler”
[7]: http://picasaweb.google.com/ “Picasa Web”
[8]: http://docs.google.com/ “Google Docs”
[9]: http://www.google.com/calendar/ “Google Calendar”
[10]: http://www.facebook.com/ “Facebook”
[11]: http://twitter.com/ “Twitter”
[12]: http://www.skype.com/ “Skype”
[13]: http://gigaom.com/2011/07/05/huddle-google/ “UK startup defends Huddle name against Google – again”
[14]: http://blog.davidebbo.com/2011/07/one-big-feature-social-networks-really.html “One big feature social networks really need: Channels – David Ebbo”

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