For the last few days, I’ve been trying out Google+, the new social network to arrive on the scene from Google. What, another one? I hear most of you cry, but I for one love it, in fact I haven’t been able to keep off there since I received the invite! Some of my readers may be aware that I have never been a fan of Facebook, I only began using it because members of my family asked me to join. Google+ is far more to my taste, from it’s brilliantly conceived circles that allow you to keep everyone separate so that you can just post an update to those you choose, to its fantastic integration of Picasa and your photos. Oh, and don’t of course forget Blogger!
As on other social sites, your profile is key to others getting to know you and choosing whether or not to add you to their circles, and it is also key to using Google+ search which allows others to find you by searching your info such as where you work or the area where you live. If you want to be more vague about this info when you fill in the respective areas, you can of course do so to help to protect your privacy, but you can no longer keep your Profile private in Google+. However, don’t be worried about privacy because Google+ does have a very impressive way of setting up your privacy settings to suit you. Nor do you have to fill every item in as you can see from my Google+ Profile. Just remember when you fill it in, only put in what you wish others to see. (as with all social networks.) In fact you can get a view of how others see your profile once you have filled it all in so that you can check that your not giving too much info away to others by simply clicking on your profile icon and then choosing the View Profile As box and entering someone’s name who is in one of your circles.
It’s Circles that are really the backbone and the inspiration that makes Google+ such a success in my opinion. Far too often on Facebook I have added some link or other that I knew would not be interesting to my family and many of my friends, so being able to post an update to your individual circles (or even just to one particular person) is a godsend. The principle of Circles is fairly easy to understand and Google starts you off with some default circles such as the obvious one’s of Family and Friends. You can rename these default circles as you can any of the other circles that you may create later. No one is going to see what you have called your circles or who you decide to place in them and you can add as many circles as you like.
Picasa has been fully integrated into Google+ and is the default for your photos that you share on there, either in your stream or as uploads to Google+, where they are saved as posts as is your profile picture. Clicking on your photos icon from the top of your stream (home) or alternatively from your profile, takes you to your photo page where you can see all of the photos that people in your circles have used in their streams, plus photos from your phone, photos of you, and lastly your photo albums that you have amassed in Picasa. Clicking on someone’s photo from this page or from your stream brings up an full screen version with a black background where you can leave a comment about the photo. There are also some useful features for the owner of the photo accessed from the Actions tab such as Photo Details, Rotate Left and Right, Edit Photo, Delete Photo and report or delete comments. You can also add a tag to your photo.
I feel that Picasa has been well integrated into Google+ and the enhancements made to the UI are to be welcomed. When I go to view my photos in my albums now from Google+ and hover my mouse over an album, the album fans out’ to display the first three photos in that album and it looks very attractive.
The other feature of Google+ that I have used so far is called Sparks, where you can use Google+ search to search any subject and then choose one of the articles found to post to your stream in order to share with others. There are some subjects already provided for you but you can search on any subject that interests you or may be of interest to those in your circles. So if you had a circle consisting of all the members of a book club for example, you could search for the latest books.
Another very popular feature found in Google+ is Hangout where you can invite others to join you in a video chat. At this particular time, you can invite up to ten people to chat to all at once and this feature is turning out to be getting some really good use from those who are on Google+ at this time. A chat feature is also available but many of the early adopters consider that the Hangout feature is a fantastic idea and one that will be used in the future for lot’s of collaboration and get togethers. Whether the maximum number currently allowed will be increased as Google+ evolves is debatable, but if it proves popular with users it might be possible for Google to increase it. The following video shows how hangouts work in Google+
My personal concern so far is that most of the initial users on Google+ have been the more technically able, and although one can understand why any big technology company would tend to focus on such users to trial their software, the feedback and the usage so far is bound to be skewered. Whilst we ‘Geeks’ and more tech able have found Google+ easy to set up and get to grips with, and there have already been some fantastic ‘tips and tricks’ doing the rounds on Google+, and also some very useful extensions for Chrome have already surfaced from developers, the success or failure of Google+ is as always going to hinge on whether or not the mainstream users take to it or not. So far, most of the tech able users love it and it is proving very VERY addictive, but whether the man or woman in the street is going to feel the same and abandon other social networks for Google+ is a moot point. Will they be able to easily grasp setting up their circles and the concept behind it all? Of course, Google has tried to be as helpful as possible by providing some really good videos to demonstrate how it all works, and others are quickly providing helpful guides via their blogs etc, but it is can prove very difficult to gear your user interface to cover every level of user out there. The success or not of Google+ will all hinge on this very question in my opinion.