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The Rat who is made of Stainless Steel


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Google+: My Thoughts So Far...
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stainsteelrat
So I was fortunate to get a Google+ invite a few days ago. More than anything I was interested to see what it was like, against the backdrop of Google's successes (and more so the recent failures e.g. Buzz, Wave). I'm a huge fan of social networking, if you hadn't guessed already, and aside from blogging I frequent Twitter and Facebook... well, frequently. Hence I was very interested to see what Google have to offer.

Google+ is clearly trying to take the core of Facebook and replicate it, but with some of Google's style. Google in part seem to be trying to work on things that Facebook users dislike, although I suspect this is targeted at the more IT literate user rather than the average. Already at this stage it seems like Google+ will be a home for the IT literate, more so than the huge melting pot that Facebook has.

The core or home of Google+ is the Stream, much like Facebook's Most Recent feed (don't get me started on Facebook defaulting to its near pointless Top News feed). The Stream is clearly the most vital part of Google+, as much like Facebook this is where the meat and potatoes of social networking takes place. You can immediately filter the Stream using your Circles (which are essentially user groups), access Sparks (things that might interest you, including featured interests) and Chat.

The Stream is where I have the biggest problem with Google+. Firstly the UI design doesn't sit easily on my eye, albeit that's a taste thing. Secondly from a more functional perspective it's just too damn bloated. Facebook made the design decision some months (years?) ago to reduce the font size of their feed, and despite outcries from lots (including myself) it was a very wise thing to do. Simply it frees up feed real estate, as you want to pack as much as you can into the feed as possible. Facebook has also optimised just the basic layout to be pretty good at making the most of the screen real estate, aside from the font. Facebook will also do things like collapse more than two comments (Edit: Google+ has started doing this now), aggregate links that are posted more than once, and even aggregate birthday wishes of late. Google+ does none of this currently, and that's another pain point for me as part of the whole Stream design problem. Even images and YouTube videos, which are the most obvious items, are relatively large in comparison to those that show up in the Facebook feed.

As already mentioned, the Stream allows you to filter to user groups very quickly, and that's a semi-positive it has over Facebook. Of course it's arguably a double edged sword being able to restrict who you're reading, as does that defeat the purpose of social networking? Facebook instead has the ability to hide people/groups that you don't want to read. Similar yet subtly different features. Another useful feature in Google+ is the ability to mute a single update e.g. a topic you're not interested in, something Facebook cannot do.

The final thing on the Stream/Home page, aside from some administrative areas, is the Hangouts feature. This is the multi-user video chat feature, which allows up to 10 people to talk at any one time. Would this be used by teenagers perhaps, or partners/family who are distant? I can't see any use for it personally, and it seems to be a side feature. I didn't think geeky types would be all that happy about talking to each other over video chat, but maybe the kinky proportion is higher than I thought.

Next up along the toolbar is Photos. In my opinion this is a mess. It shows a collage of photos either from your Circles, your phone, or you. The collage from your Circles is a bewildering array of photos and of little practical use. And that's about all there is to it.

The third button is your Profile. Again this is a very simple area, showing your posts, and linking to the area to edit your profile, much like Facebook's profile page. A potentially useful feature is a specific page to see what you've "liked", or +1'd in Google+ speak. Again, that's about it.

The fourth and final button is for Circles, which are essentially the same as friend groups in Facebook. Unlike Facebook though the grouping system isn't as hidden away and as difficult to understand. Along the top you see a view of people you've added, as well as people who've added you, and those you might want to add (primarily so far a page of celebs). Below the lists of contacts are the circles themselves, which you can create ad nauseum. You can drag and drop any of the contacts into the Circles you've created, which start off with the defaults of Friends, Family and Acquaintances. There are some whizzy animations here e.g. when you drag and drop, and when you delete a circle; fun, not that they're functional as such. Hovering over a circle shows you a small view of who is there, which isn't very helpful. Clicking on a circle opens up a contact list, which is more useful. My two immediate problems with circles are (1) knowing whether I've added someone or not from the top contact list (clicking on a circle could highlight those in the contact list, which would be very helpful) and (2) why not show you a subtractive view that removes those who've added you from the people in your circles.

And that's basically all there is to Google+ so far, aside from the usual copious setting pages we're used to with Facebook.

My principal problems with it so far firstly relate to the Stream, as detailed above. Also the aforementioned feature changes to Circles would make it a lot easier for me to use. Perhaps the bigger or biggest problem is it's YASN... Yet Another Social Network. I can cope with Twitter and Facebook, and have been a long time blogger. A third (or is that fourth?) feels like the straw that will break the camel's back, particularly when so few systems integrate with Google+ at the moment. I might post there when say Tweetdeck add a status update feature, which I'm sure will come, but for the moment I'm still unlikely to frequent it often for the reasons outlined above.

Also I can't help but think Google are making the mistake that Microsoft made (and that the vast proportion of very large companies make), and rather than trying to innovate they are starting to copy every other successful idea. Not a bad thing necessarily, and it works for Microsoft to some degree, but if you're going to copy then you need to take the idea and improve on it. So far Google+ feels much more embryonic than an idea that has been significantly improved upon, and I was underwhelmed when I first started to use it. "Oh but it's a beta!", you might say. "Ah yes, but in classic coding terms a beta is something that's close to feature complete!", I would reply (sorry, geek reply).

Of course like any social networking geek I'll keep my eyes on changes to it, and/or if it attracts a bigger audience. It should be clear in the next few months whether Google+ becomes a huge success, a failure, or a middle of the road place where geeks hang out. The largest proportion of my money's on the latter.

Edit: I thought I'd stick further thoughts down here as postscripts.

1. The Stream also needs to have a default view. For the most part I only want to see my Friends circle, so allow me to default to that.

2. Google+ allows you to edit updates you make. Facebook doesn't. I can see why Facebook does this, as it can change the context, but still it's a useful feature. You can also edit comments on Google+. Facebook recently instituted a comment editing feature, but you have to be very quick on the draw.

3. Why have the word "Stream" above the stream? I don't see the need for it, and it takes up more (albeit only a little) feed real estate.

4. Curiously Google+ shows if you're in other people's Circles, in a general sense. A bit like Twitter's followers and following?

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Im on google plus - i always jump in to these things, and see how they develop...

I was a bit late with Twitter and Facebook, but tried both Buzz and Wave (ugh!). I don't remember this feeling of disappointment with Twitter and Facebook.

Are you hiding on google plus? Can't find you.

I'm http://gplus.to/moosical

;)

"the place where geeks hang out" bit I would certainly agree with from the perspective of diaspora* - but I think that Google is big enough to pique the curiosity of all types of user.

I've been on diaspora* - thelovebug@joindiaspora.com incidentally - for almost 7 months, I have 59 contacts, and they're mostly FLOSS geeks.

I've been on G+ - thelovebug - for a week, and I alredy have 37 contacts, and about 50% of them aren't FLOSS geeks. I think this is quite telling.

And yes, I just used LiveJournal.

I think it remains to be seen. If it offers enough really interesting general features then inevitably it will pull people of all sorts across from Facebook. atm my view is it won't do that - every contact I have on their is an IT geek of some varying description.

You're so lucky to have got an invite. I'm itching to get on there.

Apparently invites are open again. What's your gmail?

biigmugoftea and then the usual

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