First Impressions: Google+

I have had some time to play around with Google+. The interface is total rip-off of FaceBook’s UI. 3 coloumns and a header, 1 search bar on top. All elements in Google+ are positioned exactly the same way as Facebooks’.

To start with, Google has introduced quite a few buzz words-

1. Circles
2. HangOuts
3. Sparks
4. Streams

1. Circles

The most central and defining (also differentiating aspect) of Google+ is Circles. On surface Circles give an impression that they are similar to Facebook groups, but they are not. They are just like Facebook lists, the difference is they are uni-directional, here circles superseed individual relationships.

In Google+ you add someone directly into a circle (this relationship is exclusive, uni-directional & not mutual). Here groups of people are lumped together to form a circle. Adding someone to your circle is similar to ‘Following’ concept in twitter, the only difference is communication/sharing to that person has to happen through circle but not individually to the person.

In Facebook, you add someone as a friend (this relationship is mutual) and then categorize them into lists (exclusive to you only). While you also have groups, where everyone knows everyone and the context is defined pretty clearly.

Circles work in a very weird way  Say I have a circle of 10 people, every thing I share in that circle will come up in Stream(feed) of all the 10 people. The strange thing is the circle is unique to me, which means none of the 10 people will know the existence of it. Which is kinda strange implementation, say you want to comment on my post. There is no way for you to know the context, cause you are not sure which other people can read your comments on the post. (though you can see all the list of people whom the post was shared with, it can be pretty overwhelming to track other users)

When I am commenting on your post in Facebook, my assumption is that almost every one of your friends can see it. But with Google+, I need to keep guessing about the context of the post. Unless I know which of his circles can see a particular post, there is no way I can make a comment in the right context.

Facebook too has this context problem, but Google+ claims to solve it with circles. But instead it made sharing & exchanging a more work like. Relationships in Google+ can be tricky and too saavy for simple minded end users

Google+ at the outset seems like a lot of work, by forcing users to create circles it is kinda sucking away the fun. End users usually don’t know their sharing patterns, how can you predict what circles to make keeping sharing in mind. (I just ended up categorizing my friends in circles, but didn’t keep sharing in mind, it was done like School, Tuition, CBIT, Mechies etc ). My circles are so thinly spread apart, that I will end up under sharing

2. HangOuts

This is like Chatroulette for friends. Which I think this is by far the best feature of Google+, its fun to use as well. This feature lets you do groups video chat, watch Youtube videos. This definitely has potential to change the way we interact with friends on social networks.

3. Sparks– I have no idea what this is all about (I bet even Google doesn’t know). Sparks is supposed to be some sort of replacement for Facebook Pages, but a very strange implementation. Sparks is like the alternative word for Interests. You need to add your interests to follow what happening around them.

But when you click on a spark or interest, all you get is a series of blue links with some text preview. It is more like a Google News/Blog search for that interest/spark. I am not even sure why this has to be a feature in a social networking site.

4. Streams– This is pretty straight forward, similar to News Feed in Facebook.

5. Photos– Photos in Google+ were integrated with PicasaWeb albums. I have heard mixed reaction on the integration. I was initially skeptical over the decision, but few whom I spoke to were positive about the change.

Coming to Photo viewing considerable thought has gone into designing it. All the comments come up on the extreme right of the page, this design is saving you the trouble of scrolling through vertically for the series of comments(unlike Facebook Photos).

This integration might change the way PicasaWeb Albums is used, those who use it as an archiving medium might have a lot to complain cause Google+ add another layer to the existing one. But the good news could be Google removing data limits on size of Picasa WebAlbums (Since Facebook no limit of the number of photos uploaded)

6. Google Buzz– The grand failure product some how made its way through Google+. Why is there a Google Buzz tab? Now we kinda have 2 feeds to follow, one is the Google Buzz feed and the other is Google+ feed. As if the confusion is not enough, when I add someone to into my circles, I don’t automatically follow their Buzz feed. I need to follow them on Buzz as well. Why do I have to follow a circled guy separately on Buzz again?

I am still wondering the rationale behind this one.

Few other obvious things which I couldn’t figure out if they existed or not.

– How do I post on your profile? Guess what, there is no way to do that, cause there is nothing similar to a Wall.
– How can I send someone a private message?

Final Thoughts-
I think Google+ is good for a small group of users, but not for a large networks. But again if you have small groups of users whom you want to share something with, we have Facebook groups for that. Google+ definitely is an interesting social networking attempt, thought at places it is a straight rip-off of Facebook’s features, at other places considerable amount of thought has gone into designing it.

But does it have the chops to take on Facebook? Yes it does. But all depends on how Google convinces users to switch and build an alternative network to Facebook, which I think will be the determining factor for its success.

4 thoughts on “First Impressions: Google+”

  1. First of all, I am glad that Google did not mine my mail and chats to suggest what friends to put in what circles. I think they have learnt their lesson. Plus the data liberation idea might also generate a lot of user interest.

    1. @Dev: I believe Google actually mined the data from my contact lists and frequently emailed contacts. If you look at the place where you sort users into .circles, there is an option where you can sort people by relevance. All the contacts who are rated relevant are my most frequently used contacts.

      Can you try and confirm if its the same for you?

  2. Very descriptive and good training material for g . Till now I had a feeling that circles was the great idea, but I think a better solution for sharing is needed

    1. I definitely think circles has the potential but somewhere it just falls apart. I think 5 circles is the limit, anything beyond 5 will make our lives difficult. But if we have just 5 circles, why not make 5 lists on Facebook and manage security of each post.

      The fundamental difference between Facebook and Google+ is

      While Sharing:
      – In Facebook security needs to managed while posting a particular message.
      – In Google+ security is pre-managed, just have to share with the right group.

      While commenting:
      – Facebook too has a context problem, but in general end users are used to the idea of them being open for all.
      – Google+ Circles falls apart when the end user want to communicate back. (context problem) Its trickier cause in users tend to believe its a secure place to comment

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