I guess that’s the official spelling … Google Plus looks too prosaic. And Google+ is anything but prosaic, by Google standards. Their famous insistence on speed over style has given way to something positively goofy, compared to the basic sites Google has given us in the past. This is attributable to the presence of Andy Hertzfeld, who goes back to the development of the Macintosh, and who was given free rein to make Google+ appealing.
So, what is Google+ and why should you want it? It’s a suite of applications that runs in your browser … the specifics of my descriptions might not be exact, hey, I’m not a techie writer and I’ve only been playing with + for a day. The key feature is Circles. You can create as many circles as you want … for instance, I have three family-related circles, one for the immediate family, one that adds my siblings and their families to the mix, and a third that adds my extended family. I also have circles for friends, really good friends, people from school … you get the idea. Why bother with circles? Because circles allow you to target the audience for your contributions. When you update your status on Facebook, or post a video, or write a note, every one of your “friends” can see it. You can create groups to manage this problem, but it’s clunky to do so. With circles, you just drag and drop. I don’t suppose it took me half an hour to sort all of my contacts into groups. Then, when I want to post something relevant only to my family, I’ll only give access to the Family circle. If it involves close friends, give them access. If it’s something appropriate for everyone, make it public. This kind of targeted posting seems like a v.good idea to me.
You get a Stream which is like your Facebook news feed. There is something called Sparks which needs work … it’s basically a search engine for a specific subject, so you can call one “Bruce Springsteen” and whenever you check it, you’ll get recent net posts about him.
The killer app, the one that inspired more than one person to say Google+ isn’t a Facebook Killer, but a Skype Killer, is Hangouts. Hangouts allows up to ten people to participate in a video chat. You can open up a Hangout and wait for friends to stop by, you can invite specific people, or you can join someone else’s Hangout. You can watch YouTube videos together. I’m sure this will have some kinks … so far, I’ve only tried a one-on-one chat … but it’s like Chatroulette, only selective instead of random.
There is an Android app that allows for group texting, so if four of you are going to lunch, you can use “Huddle” and save time. You can do some but not all of the web-based stuff on your Android phone (iOS to follow).
Google+ is enough fun, and is easy enough to use from the start, that I imagine most people will like it once they start using it. The question is whether it will retain value over the long term. Social networking requires people (duh). Facebook has the people; new attempts to conquer the social arena have to deal with that fact. Until Google+ gets enough users, it will remain a cult item. Still, despite the numbers, I feel like a lot of the Facebook users I know are always complaining about the thing. Maybe they’re ready for something new.
Google is also up against their recent past. Simply put, they have failed big time in their previous attempts at social networking. Google Wave was potent but inscrutable; Google Buzz debuted by making one of the biggest privacy-invasion blunders in web history. Both products had their fans, but there weren’t nearly enough of them to build a large network. In the last couple of days, I’ve seen and heard a lot of “experts” who have fallen instantly in love with Google+, but are wary of admitting it because they fear another Wave/Buzz.
Anything can happen when a product is only a couple of days old. Problems will arise that haven’t been anticipated. But my first take on Google+ is that it is delightful. To become more than just a fun toy, though, it needs people. So anyone reading this who is intrigued, get Google+ as soon as you can. (It is currently invitation only, and invitations have been temporarily shut down because Google is trying a slow buildup, and they’ve gotten LOTS of attention and requests. In other words, no, I don’t have any invites at this time.)