You’ve probably heard some of the excitement and discussion over Google’s latest feature, Google+. If you haven’t, Google+ is the search giant’s latest social sharing attempt, though not the first. Earlier attempts, such as Google Buzz and Google Wave failed to make the impact of Facebook and Twitter.
Still a work in progress, Google+ has been released by invite over the past few weeks and has already boomed to nearly eighteen million users. Here at DesignHammer, we have been exploring the social networking site and the features it has to offer. After opening my account last week, here is what I’ve found.
Advantages of The Google+ Project
Google+ is easy to navigate and has a clean and aesthetically pleasing design. The Google+ toolbar is an improvement; it allows easy access to Google+ while using any other Google service such as Gmail or Google Documents. The real attraction of Google+, though, is its inventive new features, notably Circles, Sparks, and Hangouts.
The Unique Features of Google+
Circles is a means of organizing friends into different groups so that you can choose which friends see the information you share. This feature makes differentiation between family and acquaintances easy, as opposed to Facebook, where even the people you hardly know are still “friends.” Facebook does have a similar friend list feature, but it is nowhere near as easy to use as Google+ Circles. As another bonus, Google+ plays an animation every time you add someone to your Circles, making the site more fun.
I frequently use the Sparks feature, which is essentially a recommendation service under a different name. A Google+ user can indicate his or her interests, called Sparks, and Google+ will provide a news feed of supposedly relevant articles on each Spark. I find it a quick way to learn about what is going on without having to wade through multiple news sites and long lists of unrelated articles.
Hangouts is a different approach to video group chat that allows up to ten users to video chat simultaneously. Hangouts appear in your Google+ stream just as any other notification would. The most innovative part of this feature is that Hangouts will switch who is on camera based on which user is talking. Despite using a large amount of bandwidth, Hangouts is an ingenious feature and is one of the biggest attractions of Google+.
The Flaws of Social Sharing With Google
Google+ is still in its “Field Trial” stage and will be tweaked before its final release. The biggest complaints I’ve heard so far about Google+ concern its mobile version, which does not contain every feature of Google+, and its inability to be used with a Google Apps account.
As for the interface itself, Google needs to smooth out a few rough edges involving how posts and comments are sorted and displayed in the Google+ Stream.
A significant shortcoming, the lack of a native iPhone app, was alleviated on July 19th when the free Google+ app appeared in the App Store . It does not, however, include all of the features of the full web version, such as the ability to tag people in photos, or Sparks, which is completely absent.
Ironically, one thing that Google hasn’t implemented as well as it could is a truly effective search tool for finding friends with similar interests, filling out profile information, etc. The biggest drawback, however, is simply the fact that Google+ does not have a large user base, since there is no reason to be on social sharing site if no one else is using it.
Google+ vs. Facebook: Who Will Win?
The real test, however, will be whether or not Google+ can compete with Facebook for the social networking spotlight. Google+ does have plenty of new features, but will that be enough to draw users away from Facebook? If Google+ can successfully establish a base of users, then it can grow in numbers as people follow their friends to the site. For the time being, Facebook and Google+ will peacefully coexist and only time will tell if Google+ will become the next big social sharing trend.