When I first logged into Google+ I was a bit underwhelmed, but the more I used and explored the site, the more I liked it. While it has already been deemed Google’s Facebook competitor, it is quite different. I want to share my opinion on the pros and cons of the site to help shine a little light on what exactly Google+ is, and what it does (and doesn’t) do well.
Google+ uses a diaspora -like way of sharing content with users by utilizing circles. I think this format is very appealing to many users who are working to balance their professional and personal life. Google+ makes it much easier to target content to your individual circles. It can be tricky because the proper circles must be added for each message.
Facebook is often critiqued for their dubious privacy changes, and Google seems to be catering to those unhappy users with easy to use privacy options in one location. Deleting an account is straightforward, so is deleting social features. This may appeal to some disgruntled Facebookers, drawing them to use Google+.
Google+ ‘Huddle’ is a non-SMS group chat application for mobile phones. This competes directly with other downloadable apps like Beluga,TextPlus, Kik, and GroupMe. There has not been any run away app in this space, but a Google product like Huddles should help boost it to the forefront.
One negative of this is I didn’t see a way to view huddles online in Google+. It would be ideal to keep some sort of log, or allow for a web based version of huddles to keep track of all communications.
Having worked remotely (at least part-time) for the past 3 years, a ‘Hangout’ has a lot of value to me. This allows for a video based group chat, you can invite users, or others see within a circle and join along.
I have used many types of video software to perform group chats and there did not seem to be a stand out among them. Google+ could be the solution. My only question – is this important to others? I would only use this for work and professional reasons. There might be value for the average user, I’m just not sure.
The integration of media on Google+ is very appealing, more so than Facebook. Photos are large and captivating when they come through your stream. Location check-in visuals also add to updates and are not an afterthought.
Even the close-up view of an image is appealing. To enhance an image comments are shown off to the side and the rest of the site is grayed out.
As you will read below, I wasn’t able to create a hands-on test of the mobile app, but talked to many team members who gave it great reviews. The highlights include: the location based options tie directly into Latitude, the photo functionality works seamlessly, and that huddles were great for communication.
One of the main features of Google+ is the ability to tie multiple Google products to one location. Google+ ties in seamlessly with Latitude, chat, +1, Chrome, Google Profiles, new Google page designs, Google One Bar, Gmail and Android. Here’s an example of a seamless check-in:
Google+ works well with all of these, if your settings are tuned properly.
When a user adds a comment to a + post you have commented on, it is brought back to the top of your stream. However, Google gives you the option of ‘muting’ a conversation if you don’t want to view it any longer. This is a great feature, even though when I muted a conversation on Google+, it did not stop Google from sending me status updates via email for every additional comment.
Notifications can be some of the most annoying and confusing elements of social sites, but if you are using Google+ and Gmail, it won’t be. Profile pictures are seamlessly tied in and you almost feel you are on a website instead of in your inbox. Here is how the responses to Danny’s initial + post looked in my inbox:
As soon as you log-in, you can tell that some brilliant people created this site. However, in my opinion, the UI is too complicated for the average social user. There are too many options and different features for someone who is trying to simply post up information. This is something that Facebook and Twitter excel at – making hard things simple.
To make a post a user must find connections to add to circles, add suggestions and friends to circles, and update content to specific people by choosing circles (which can include ‘your circles,’ or ‘extended circles’).
There are just a lot of options for people and it will take a good deal of getting used to for the non tech-savvy user. After playing with it in-depth for a day, I now like the communication elements, but those who come in to kick the tires may find it too difficult.
One thing that may severely hold back adoption of Google+ is account and profile issues that arise with the service. To even sign up with Google+ you must pre-qualify by having a Google Profile. This may be common in the Googleplex, but isn’t so much for average users. You cannot sign up with an email address that does not have a profile attached, and changing Google profile email addresses isn’t easy. There was also some buzz about Google App Accounts not working with Google+, but I had no issues signing up as everything went smooth (I had a Google Profile on my Google App Email Address).
I have never been a fan of Google accounts due to the fragmentation of accounts across the various Google services, and I was burned again with account issues. When I bought an Android phone a few years back, I signed up with my email address at that time. Since then, I have set up a professional account that I use with my Google Profile. This does not bode well with Google+. To use the Google+ app you cannot login with any Google account tied to your phone, you must register with the Android account used when setting up the phone. This means no Google+ app for me unless I do a factory settings restore on my phone. As a user – this would be a total dealbreaker for me continuing to use the Google+ service.
Other members at Search Engine Land were also having issues with various accounts and the inability to log-in due to various problems that occur when you have more than one Google Account. Will this be a problem for the average user? Probably not. It sure is annoying. To get Google+ working properly you must nail every step in the process perfectly in order to get Google+ working properly.
People & Circles
In Google+ you can assign users to multiple circles. This is a nice feature, but again can be very confusing. Google+ recommends you add users to circles even if they have been assigned a circle. If a user has multiple email addresses, it can get quite confusing. Many times Google+ recommends people already in circles or recommends user follow themselves (again, due to email issues).
Google is really good at launching algorithm updates, page enhancements and other items that don’t require mass adoption. However, Google product launches around items that need adoption are pathetic. From Google Wave to Google Buzz to Google Music, Google does a horrible job of striking while the iron is hot; instead killing the interest and attention of potential users.
I believe that much of the success of Google+ will be how fast it can become available to users. Giving users access invite-by-invite to a social platform is not the way to launch a social network. Social networks survive on interactions, and interactions occur from like-minded people and friends collaborating together. Limited invite-by-invite access will not spur this behavior, period.
Sparks, the news element of the Google+ service, leaves a lot to be desired in the current state. Instead of some type of news customization, you pick from a channel, or search to make a channel of your own. I expect this to drastically change in the near future to be much more similar to a LinkedIn Today, but there is no benefit to use this today.
While the ‘huddles’ are a sexy form of mobile communication, web users are stuck with regular old Google Talk for chat. You cannot chat with your fellow Google+ers, rather only can communicate with those already connected to your email address. It is an eyesore for a well-designed site and seems like a band-aid communication feature. In order to chat with friends, you must enable certain circles within your settings.
The Product Name & Element Names
As Danny mentioned the name Google+ is not great. The naming convention inside the service isn’t much better either. Instead of a ‘like’, users give a post a +1. The number of +1’s is listed with each post in the form of +#. So if seven people liked a post, it would show as +7. But when one person likes a post, it is just confusing:
I apologize for this next sentence in advance, but there is no better way to state it. From what I have seen so far, every Google+ post that is ‘+1ed’ on Google+ does not show up in your Google +1′s off of Google+. That is a lot to say. Basically, the +1 button on Google+ doesn’t act the same as the +1 button in the SERPs, which is very strange and confusing.
Other element names are also confusing. Google talk is shown under the chat on the left navigation, but ‘hangouts’ aren’t near the chat section of the navigation – and ‘huddles’ are nowhere to be found on the web. News is also called a ‘spark’ while groups are ‘circles.’ That is too much for the basic user just looking to communicate.
No other Tie-Ins
One nice feature of services such as LinkedIn is you can tie other accounts, like Twitter, into your profile. Google+ does not offer this yet. If you are going to use Google+, it will be as a standalone platform in its current state. The closest you can get to adding other accounts is by adding links in your Google Profile.
Google did a great job in the design of Google+ which is why it drives me crazy to see ugly legacy items like Google Talk disrupt the stunning visuals.
Google+ is a great platform for those looking to break away from their current social networks. The real question is – how many people are looking to break away from their social networks? I can see avid tech users adopting Google+, but I don’t think this is a replacement to Facebook by any means. There is not much real value switching to Google+ for an average Facebook user, unless you are concerned about privacy or have a hankering for video group chats. The complexity will also turn away many users. If industry professionals have questions on how Google+ works, the public will as well.
However, I believe that Google+ has a few different spaces that it could thrive:
A LinkedIn/Facebook Hybrid For ProfessionalsI can see Google+ acting as a vehicle for like-minded professionals to communicate freely, utilize hangouts and share information. The circles feature would make categorization easy for professionals. The ability to follow others on Google+ is more effective than a Twitter or Facebook list.
An Internal Company Intranet
While this is no way what Google intended for Google+, the entire time that I was playing with the service I was thinking how phenomenal this would be as an addition to Google Apps for large corporations. The different circles would be perfect for different departments and video chat would be great for the growing working from home community.
Overall, I liked the product and the implementation, but I am not really sure what people will use it for (not generally a good sign for a new product launch). What may really make-or-break the success of Google+ is how fast they can roll out to the public and if they can make the service appear less daunting to the average user. All in all, this is the best social product put out by Google to date, but probably not enough to convert existing social users away from their current service.