Wednesday, 29 June 2011
My first experience with Google+/Google Plus

I received an invite to join the Google Plus Field Test from a friend of mine who works at Google. My first impressions of the sign up process for Google+ (or g+ as people now refer to it) was "this is rather simple" simple is good!

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I suppose the beauty of Google+ is that most people have a Google Account, well lets put it this way most people in the IT industry have a Google Account and therefore a lot of the people I associate with have Google Accounts.

All Google+ asked me when I signed up was if I wanted to link my Google+ account to my PicasaWeb Albums, it automatically picked up that I had a Google Buzz account (which I seldom use). 

Logging into Google+ for the first time, you are presented with the following screen

 

GooglePlusHomePage

The first thing I noted about the interface in Google+ is its pretty clean, they've done a bit of work making sure its not cluttered. Facebook has that cluttered feel to it which has probably come about by Facebook bolting on new features throughout the years as its grown organically while Google has had the chance to think about this from the ground up.

The Circles
One of Google+'s selling points is its "Circles" concept, basically a human being has many circles, they can be a circle of friends, circle of associates a family circle.you get the picture.

GoogleCircle

Google+ suggests people I have corresponded with in the past be they from Google Talk, Buzz or my GMAIL contact list.

I can also import contacts from Yahoo and Hotmail.

I can then choose to add these people to my network by dragging them into the circle I think they fit into best.

Later when I want to share content I can choose which of these circles I'd like to share my content with or just make the content public. Google appears to have carefully noted peoples annoyances with Facebook and appear to be making sure Google+ does not fall into the same security trap Facebook did in the past. (hopefully I didn't speak too soon!)

 

The Streams
When posting updates, Google has a concept called "Streams", the circles you placed your friends into earlier each have their own corresponding stream where anything posted by these users appear in the corresponding stream.

writingupdates

As on a Facebook wall you can post different kinds of content into a stream such as photos, video's, your location and links.

Trying it out for a while I quite like the Stream concept I think its very cleverly done. I also like how easy it is to see who I am sharing my content/updates with by selecting a Circle from the drop down list (see the picture).


Hangouts
Another feature I didn't get to test out (not many of my friends are online early in the morning!) is a video conferencing feature called Hangouts. You can basically open a Hangout to which you can choose which friends or Circles of friends can join at their leisure. In a Hangout you can watch YouTube videos together and video chat or text chat to each other. The video conferencing with more than one person at a time seems to be a direct competitor with Skype's premium conferencing service. I can see the potential for Google to Launch a commercial version of this tool with their business offerings.

Security
So far Google have made the security simple to understand. You can access these settings from the top right hand side of the screen.

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Google carefully explains to you what can and cannot be seen, how the various features work and how to change these settings if you wish.

You are also able to see how other people might see your profile by typing in their username.


Conclusion
I have only used Google+ briefly but from what I have seen I am pretty impressed and I would love it to succeed. I know there have been a lot of anti-Facebook groups lately who are unhappy with the security in Facebook, I believe they now have a suitable alternative to choose from (albeit no one finds a gaping security hole). Will people leave Facebook in droves to join Google+ ? I am not so sure they would I believe people may sign up for both because its pretty easy to do so. Which one they may end up using the most may depend on several factors such as ease of use and where their friends hang out the most. As Google is just about everyone's search engine of choice these days the integration with their flagship search engine will probably appear seamless and easy for users to switch between.

I can foresee further integrations between Google+ and search which will help Google monetise plus. For example a friend finds a jacket they like on Google Shopping and hits a button on Google Shopping which says share with my Circle. The friends in that circle then get to see a nicely displayed update in their stream so they can click on the product and see more details. Every click in theory would earn Google AdSense revenue.

What I have found in the past is that Google often focuses on launching a product or service that at the time doesn't really make much sense until later when you see the bigger picture. If Google gets this right they could crack a large revenue stream if they get it wrong it could be yet another Wave.

Note: Please don't ask me for a Google+ invite. People in the field trial have not been given the ability to issue invites as yet.