Okay. Bottom line: Yes.
Yes, I like Google+.
Yes, it has some amazing bells and whistles.
And yes, it kind of scares me.
I’ve told many people G+ sure seems like the Buzz Lightyear of social media, the new must-have everyone wants to play with to the detriment of the old Woody the Cowboy (psst… I’m talking about Facebook).
But at some point, many of us will finish trying to figure out this new behemoth and go back to the tried-and-true white and blue.
Considering I’ve had at least 30 people ask for invites in the last two days, and nearly all signed up within minutes of being added to my Circles, it’s safe to say the g+ears are turning. Some estimate ”Plus” may already have around 5 million users (see below for more on that).
So here are my first week impressions:
THE “+1”S OF G+
- Google Hangouts - To quote my friend Josh, an aircraft engineer, “How is this is free???” Hangouts may be the most awe-inspiring thing about the Google+. Over the weekend, I extended an open invite for the multi-person video chat function.
We got a maximum of six people at one time, mostly journalists (apparently we tend to stay up the latest), from Anchorage to Toledo to an SUV navigating the streets of San Jose. I’m told up to ten can simultaneously chime in, and it’s an nice technological detail that whoever is speaking the loudest takes the big window.
You can also share YouTube videos with everyone, though that part still seems a bit awkwardly implemented (You had to click on the “Join” button before it disappeared, and even then it didn’t always play the video the person was watching immediately).
Still, considering Skype charges for multi-person teleconferencing and XBox Live is still experimenting with multi-person “Avatar” chat, color me impressed. Oh, by the way, the video hardly lagged on any of the webcams.
- Circles - I would have put this first if not for how much fun I had with Hangouts. Circles, it seems, is the fundamental pillar of Google+. In order to add friends to your list, you drag them into a labeled circle, be it “Friends” or “Acquaintances” or something else of your choosing.
To be fair, Facebook has “circles” in the form of Groups, which even has some settings and features similar to Google+ (How many of us knew you can tailor who sees your status updates or photos?).
I think the difference is that by prominently featuring Circles rather than making it a sorting afterthought, Google+ encourages cliques. Facebook, it might be said, would rather you be friends with everyone. Google+ keeps your friends close and your enemies, well, in their own circle.
But Circles can also be a bit problematic (see below… again).
- Integration - One interesting side effect of Google+? My old GChat list has exploded. It’s more than doubled in size, which speaks to how much Google has integrated its different apps.
As someone pointed out, teleconferencing, news feeds, and photo/document sharing are not new concepts to the ole’ World Wide Web. It just really takes someone with Google’s clout to turn it into one big social network.
To continue with the Disney analogies, it’s like taking all the classic animated features, the ones we revisit time and again anyway, and looping them into one massive “Princess Collection.” Not that.. um.. I have… said collection… (anymore)…
The Google+ Minuses
- Privacy - With Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen already estimating more than 4.5 million Google+ users using his unique method, you expect Google to face the same privacy questions that Facebook has dealt with over the course of its own explosive growth.
Judge for yourself. Google+’s Terms of Service includes this tidbit:
By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
Granted, I’m pretty sure Google+ isn’t trying to be uber-private. They want you to have a public profile. I’m just not sure they tell you just how public some of your stuff can be.
As soon as some “acquaintances” I know signed up, Google+ started posting photos from their previously established Picasa albums. While they’re okay with it, it did catch many by surprise.
- Circles - If you understand them, Circles have the potential to rock your world. But if you don’t, they can really make your head spin. That’s the part that worries the folks who don’t want others to be able to add them into a circle sans mutual consent (a la FB).
You have to realize that Google wants to know who you want to see virtually everything you post. That means paying attention to the green versus blue:
Blue is a constricting circle, so to speak. Green, on the other hand, means people you haven’t sorted will be able to see what you’ve posted. If you’re not paying attention, it’s tough to know who is seeing what on your page.
- Beta - In the end, most of the knocks on Buzz Lightyear relate to the fact that he’s shiny and new and simply inexperienced. In this parlance, that means Google+ is glitchy+.
Tech superstar Chris Pirillo lamented that 200 people unfriended him after his photos started posting automatically. Apparently, due to a miscalculation by Google, his pictures would float to the top of people’s feeds every time someone made a comment about them.
On a smaller scale, I had friends texting me to stop emailing them every time I posted on my stream. First of all, I wasn’t aware at the time that I had added people who were not already Google+ members. Second, I didn’t know the default setting (cleverly enough, because it encourages people to sign up for G+) is to notify those non-members via e-mail every time I hit the “Share” button.
But Google tends to fix things (except for letting me sort GMail by file size, but that’s a fight… sigh… for another day), so I’m just going to be patient for now.
I wrap up with a philosophical question I posed on a G+ comment from Ted Kim of the Dallas Morning News, regarding the difference between Facebook’s “like” and Google’s “+1.”
Do they have different connotations? I venture you’d be more likely to “+1” a witty yet negative comment than “like” it. Eh, what do I know?
So.. for now, yes.
Yes, Google+ gets my +1. But Facebook still has all my food photos.