Plus Side

So, the other day I got an invitation to “field test” Google+, the latest attempt for a social networking platform by Google and pretty widely thought of to be a direct Facebook competitor. Now, I wasn’t sure that between Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn that I really needed another platform for networking, but I’m a Gmail advocate, Chrome user, and Google Calendar dependent, so thought I’d give it a whirl.

And this wasn’t without a little bit of trepidation.  I mean, I’d tried to make sense of GoogleWave and Buzz was unwieldly enough to drive me to Twitter, which was something I never thought I would have done a couple of years ago.  So, I was interested to see if Google had learned any lessons from those earlier misfires.  And after tooling around for a little bit, I think they have.

First off, the interface is very clean, which is good. It’s a little Facebook-esque, but has all the tabs and links for your other Google-based applications: Gmail, Reader, Picasa, etc which is great. It also incorporates a Gchat module on the sidebar. Nice. The FB News Feed is replaced with Stream and you receive notifications (customizable) when a post that you’ve participated in — either as author or commenter — has been updated.  Actually, one of the features that I like best is that you can reply to notifications within Google “bar”, whether you’re in Gmail, Reader, Docs, etc.

Streaming

One addition is Sparks which is supposed to be a web-content feed, which I think is a different way to say “tag-searcher”.  I tried it out with two of my favorite things (“cocktail” and “english pointer”) and got a couple of web-hits, but nothing too enlightening.  It will be interesting to see if/how Sparks evolves, though maybe I’m just thinking about it in the wrong way.

Toolbar Happiness

Another thing that’s been added was a multi-person video conferencing via webcams called Hangout.  I think it was interesting that this was announced simultaneously with FB announcing a Skype-integration package.  I’m sure Google didn’t mind taking some of the shine off that announcement.  Now, I don’t know about you, but you know why I love my computer and my phone?  Because I hardly ever talk to anyone when using them.  I have a few die-hard friends and family that like to talk — but me? I’m an emailer, a texter, a commenter, a blogger.  I’m the guy that arranges lunch in the message center of an online scrabble game — so the idea of group video chat is so not what I’m interested in, but go for it if it’s your thing.

Of course, one of the big changes is Circles — a mechanism by which you can share information with subsets of your linked friends.  Now I know FB has groups and lists and things, but they’re pretty clunky and I don’t know anyone that uses them.  A lot of folks I know are sentimental to the “good old days” of blogging on Vox — where you had tiered levels of access (Family, Friends, Neighborhood) and Circles offers a similar sort of content control.  It probably means more active management of your G+ friend matrix, but I think once it gets set up, it’s really not going to be that bad. Speaking of circles, if you want me in yours, there’s a link on the right to my G+ page.

Circles

Lastly, I want to mention what I think is probably the most appealing feature of Google+ and what I think has so many people excited and it has nothing to do with interfaces or integration.  It’s actually pretty simple: it’s not Facebook.  There are a lot of people that really seem to distrust FB because of it’s constantly shifting privacy policies and it’s willingness to sell its data. I think these folks see competition from Google (Motto: Don’t Be Evil) as something to cheer.

Now I don’t think it’s quite that black and white.  The best thing that I ever read about social networking sites was: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product. And that will be true with G+ too. Google will certainly be crunching your posts, your +1s, and all the rest so that it can target advertising (hopefully tasteful little text advertising) to we consumers.

I know it’s all shiny and new and in beta-testing mode right now, but I’ve enjoyed setting this up over the last couple of days and already the early adopters — mostly old vox people! — feel like their moving in.  I know it was the first thing I checked this morning.  Then I remembered Twitter.  And after a while, I went over and played my Scrabble turns on Facebook.

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40 thoughts on “Plus Side

      • I am so glad Hangouts is the word. Our psychotic ex-boss used the word “huddles” for quick standing meetings which were supposed to accomplish…..something I was never able to figure out.
        Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  1. The guy who writes the tech column for my local newspaper is also testing this out. He has not had anything bad to say about it, but makes a lot of “like Facebook” comments … which is not really helpful to the Facebook-phobic like me.

    • GOM — so far, I really like the integration with the rest of the google package, which I’m a big adherent to. I almost don’t want a lot of people to switch! I like the nice vox-like community feel it has now.

  2. I think the main reason I haven’t shut down my FB is because it has helped some old friends find me. Basically, all I do is update my status and occasionally use chat. I use Twitter a lot, and I blog.

    Well, I blog when I’m not in the throes of writer’s block, as I am now.

    Oh, I also like FB’s birthday reminder thing. Beyond that, I don’t really care for FB that much.

    Knowing me, would I benefit from G ? Should I accept the intitation? I feel like I’m only om FB because it links so many different groups of people…

    I’ll probably give it a shot. You’ll know if I do. :-)

    • Tom — it’s an interesting thing. Right now, I think G+ is being carried by essentially all my favorite Twitter-Vox people, so I like it. It’s a lot more versatile than Twitter, but if that’s giving you what you need, I’m not sure that it would be a big improvement for you — though I also like the chance to start over with a clean slate. I can guarantee my long-lost HS friends aren’t going here.

  3. Good first impressions.

    I think the “circles” approach allows even more granular differentiation between groups of people you want to share info with than even Vox did, especially since on a case-by-case basis you can choose to share a post with a “family” circle, a “real life friends” circle, a “internet friends circle”, a “people I haven’t seen in years” circle, and “who the heck are you” circle, or any combination of your choosing. (Furthermore, you can even share [by email] a post with someone who isn’t on Google+ and has no intention of joining, just by adding their email address to a circle.)

    The “hangouts” feature lends itself to Video chats, but from what I’ve heard plenty of people are using it with no microphone or camera – it becomes an IRC-like text-based chat, and you can share youtube videos, etc within the hangout. Still not something I’m planning to use often, but it would be perfect for things like my Fantasy Football draft, where we have in the past had to use Skype or a Conference Call # to get everyone synched up.

    I love the integration with the other Google services, and see myself seriously considering completely ditching Facebook for this much more sane (and secure) social networking site.

    • Ross — I know you and hieronymous have played around with the settings and extensions more than I have, but I agree — I really like the ability to customize each post. And the integration with all my other google modules? Yes, please.

      Hangout seems to be how they’ve integrated the Wave multi-person interaction into it. I don’t know that I’ll use it that much, but I can see where it would be useful.

  4. You mean there’s hope that people in the future will still use written text? And I’m not the only one who can’t stand calling people over the phone (which is why I skip craigslist ads that ask you to call instead of email)?

    But I think I will wait yet a while more before I try this new platform. I’ve managed to avoid opening a Facebook account all these years and don’t plan on doing so soon. It still irks me when the Google chat device opens up and shows to the world that I’m online and “available.” It’s getting harder and harder to have a quiet moment to myself, and I really don’t want all of my friends and acquaintances linked to me 24/7. Maybe when I’m very old and unable to leave the house, I’ll give it a swing. But by then who knows what will be out there? Myself, I want a flying car, and one that pilots itself.

    • I hate phone calls too. And I often hate talking to people period.

      I want a transporter…step inside…and then step out in another place…Sacramento?…..Australia?….wherever I want! :D

    • HG — well, if you’ve avoided FB for now, you could probably avoid this. I really do like the customizable content — in other words, you could share it with just few people if you want. I used to do a number of neighborhood only posts while on Vox, though the migration to WP has changed my focus a bit such that I don’t quite get as personal.

  5. I added you to one of my circles. I haven’t done much with it since there aren’t many folks on there yet. I do think I’d like it better than FB if more of my friends were there, and the Vox-like circle system is nice. As it stands, I don’t see there being a mass exodus away from FB soon.

    • Bookish — I’ll be really curious to see how much of a “share” it can pick up. I think Twitter usage is about 10% that of FB…is that enough for it to be successful? I actually like this testing period because it’s like all my favorite voxer and tweeters are the only ones there. :)

  6. Pingback: Dear fellow Google+ Pals « opinions expressed may be incorrect

  7. I absolutely am loving G+ ! I’m so tired of a lot of the fb ads, games, virus links, etc. that I really don’t frequent it as much as twitter, just because of that! G+ is totally awesome and I hope that my friends and family will be eager to join up, leaving fb in the dust! :)

    • Bren — it will be interesting to see. I love love love the idea of a “clean slate” for G+ — no old HS people trolling around. I think I’m going to be very careful with who’s in and who’s out here.

  8. I’m liking the circle thing too. I guess a lot of my friends are concerned about the photo policy or something about google having rights to use any photos you share or something but I post few photos and am not a prof. photog. so I care little about that.

    Question though….my gmail doesn’t have that grey bar at the top to reply in…..what am I doing wrong?

    • Kelly — yeah, I’m surprised how many people are up in arms about that, but I think people are always looking for the “ulterior motive”. Personally, I’d be pretty stoked if google used one of my pictures, but hey, that’s just me…

      My guess is that as the application evolves, those policies will adapt.

  9. I added some of you, who I know from Facebook. I’ll add more of you if you want, but I’d need your name. :)

    I still don’t know what I’m doing though. Haven’t spent any time learning yet…

    • I think like any of the tools, it’s going to reflect what you’re willing to put into it. G+ will actually take a little more active management than FB, which is why I think I’m going to keep my circles pretty small.

  10. Pingback: Is Google Plus Evil? « @stevenadamswv

  11. Well I am like so many others here, I don’t usually want phone calls and abandoned Face Book a long time ago. I had one person in my ex’s family on my page and all of a sudden everyone of them were there peering in the window. I enjoy my blog because it excludes my real world friends and family. Antisocial bi*%#, I know, but whatever. That’s why I live out in the middle of nowhere too. lol So, a brand new interface might be good for the people I DO actually want to connect with. Thanks for the excellent review and info Steve.

    • ladywise — you know, it’s funny, I started my vox-blog in 2006 figuring that it would mostly for my distant friends and family (most of whom live on the east coast). Almost none of them became active participants, but I ended up meeting great people through vox. Go figure. I’m saving G+ for those people… :)

  12. I was reminiscing about Vox earlier today….

    I just got on G+ today & there’s still LOTS for me to figure out. I’m really glad you blogged about this! I’m sure I’ll refer back to this blog quite a bit.

    I like Facebook & use it daily. Will this be a *new* internet time-waster or incorporated into my allotted internet time-wasting? Hmm..

    The only thing that has so far made me nervous is having to use my real name. If I could close myself off from public searches (like I have on FB), I’d feel a lot better about that.

    • handtalker — I guess I gave up on keeping my identity secret a long time ago! (I started my vox blog cluelessly, so I used my name instead of a pseudonym). Five years in I can’t think of anything that’s come back to bite me. I don’t even think about it anymore.

    • L — I like the control that G+ allows — and I’m going to be really selective about who and what I add and what I don’t.

      And YES I’m Steve Betz there too! If you can’t find me, there’s a Google+ link on the right hand bar on this blog page too. :)

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