I approached Google+ with great skepticism. And for good reason:
- Orkut: Fail (in the US anyway).
- Google Knol: Fail
- Google Wiki Search: Fail
- Google Wave: Fail
- Google Buzz: meeeh...
- Google "+1": meeh...
While Google does a lot of things well, connect people through social networking is NOT one of them. Yet they continue to make an effort.
The launch of Google+ is clearly another attempt to capture at least a portion of the lucrative social media market that Twitter and Facebook are dominating. Part of me even wonders why Google would try to compete.
All of these thoughts were going through my head as I opened up and began playing with Google+ for the first time. Remarkably, I was somewhat impressed by the smoothness, simplicity, and innovative structure of this new social networking platform.
Here is what my home screen looks like:
|Google+ Home Screen|
The updates that you see in the center of the screen are reminiscent of Facebook status updates or Tweet. Not much to get excited about. It is worth noting that my profile information is actually my Google Profile. It appears that Google+ will be the link between various "social" products such as the Google Talk, +1, Buzz, Picassa Web, and YouTube.
The organization of your network is where it starts to get interesting:
I created multiple "circles" into which I placed my various contacts. Similar to Google's tagging systems, a contact can be added to as many "circles" as you like. Mousing over a circle allows you to see all of the members of that circle and allows you to view the "stream" from the members of the circle.
The next innovative thing that I discovered are "sparks". A spark is an interest or passion around which conversations can begin. I quickly added a few: education, educational technology, online learning, and Google Apps for Education. A stream of content was created based on each of these topics. My next task is to figure out how these streams are generated. Much of the content seems to be pulled from large, popular blogs and websites.
The third and final piece of Google+ are "hangouts." This is where things really start to get interesting. Creating a "hangout" allows up to 10 people to simultaneously video chat with one another. The service integrates with Google Talk. I had to install a significant update to the Google Talk client in order to enable this service. In addition to video-conferencing, it appears that there are some new sharing features baked into "hangout." including the ability to watch a YouTube video together or participate in a text-chat. The services are built using Google "shared spaces" lab.
After playing around with Google+ for a little while I went over to the Google blog to read their post about the new feature. I was struck by a sense of humility. I noted very little fan-fare or hype related to this major product launch. It appears that Google is also tempering their expectations for their latest social network.