By now, you know all about Google+ and you might even be using it already. Cool, right? It’s funny how this thing is pretty much like Facebook, but not quite. It’s very similar to Facebook early on when many of today’s features hadn’t been implemented yet, but that’s kind of okay because they’ve seemed to have launched with the basics and the important stuff.
At first, the question is how does this stand a chance and how is it not exactly the same as Facebook. While it seems like that’s hard to answer, it’s not, there’s actually a very important distinction in ideology. Facebook is all about sharing stuff with everyone you know and opting out specific people that you may not want to see things. Google+ changes that and focuses on sharing specific things with the specific people that you feel are interested in that. This is Circles. If I want to share a bunch of nerdy links, I can just post those for one circle. If I want to post some stuff about music, I can post that only to the people that are going to be interested in it and not fill up the streams of people who don’t care. This is the way it should be. This is better. A lot better. And not only is this better, but this is the default. It definitely has the potential to make for a much better signal-to-noise ratio.
To me, that’s the one main distinction between the two besides features (which will come with time for Google+). And that distinction means a lot to me as someone that has a lot of groups of friends that all have different interests. My music related friends don’t care about tech stuff or running or snowboarding. Meanwhile, my tech friends may not listen to the same music as me. I don’t clog their streams and they won’t clog mine with stuff about…knitting…or whatever.
Google has failed with social before for a number of reasons. Either they launched with small limited betas that don’t allow enough people in to actually make it useful (e.g. Wave) or it’s too niche (e.g. Wave again) or it’s just a straight clone of something else with nothing new to offer and poor implementation (e.g. Buzz). This may only not be a straight clone of Facebook because of a single ideological difference, but I think enough was done right already to give Google+ a real future.
The big question is whether or not people will actually end up using it. Facebook has something like 700 million users right now. That’s a lot, but they lost a few million the US last month. That’s not a trend, but it could become one and it could be because Facebook isn’t doing it for a lot of people. Google+ could present a reason for more users to leave and I think Google+ could actually snag some of those users that have left Facebook already. One thing that helps is that the Google+ bar is just there whenever you’re on any Google site, right at the top. And you can share from it. Millions of people have Gmail open at all times, so they’ll just always have Google+ right there ready to use without going to a new site or opening a new tab/window. I always have Google Reader open (always…on EVERY computer) and it’s there too. I can super quickly share a link from Google Reader without even changing tabs. It’s wonderful. I can also see comments and such from right there as well. I don’t even have to open Google+ to use it or read entire comment threads. This is a huge advantage over Facebook. Plus, I can mute individual comment threads without turning off all notifications. That’s one thing that kills me on Facebook, I comment on something and then I’m stuck getting emails for comments from people I don’t know for days. Now that I’ve typed it out, this might actually be my second favorite thing about Google+ thus far.
I don’t really see Sparks taking off or being of use to me. I don’t need a machine picking out articles for me when I’ve got 300+ sites added to my Google Reader. I have more than enough to read already. But the hang outs thing is pretty neat. I like the idea of just saying “yo, I’m sitting here, who wants to chill?” It works pretty well in my limited use of it. It could already be the best group video chat out there. And it’s got a great feature that shows the person talking as a larger video and everyone else as smaller ones. When someone else starts to talk, it moves them to the big one. Automatically. In a three person chat last night, it worked almost flawlessly. Very impressive. It doesn’t sound like much, but it actually helps a lot and makes it feel more like you’re actually talking with a group of people and turning your head to face the person that is speaking. I never ever use video chat, but I might actually use this.
Another thing that’s going to help Google’s chances here is that they’re actually making apps for mobile OSes besides Android and not just relying on delivering via the browser. This killed Buzz for me. I don’t want to load an app, go to a page, and then start using something. It works, but it’s not a good user experience. On my phone, I don’t want to always have to be waiting for UI stuff to download, it’s much more efficient to only download the content. I also don’t want two steps before seeing content when I could have just one.
Only time will tell if Google+ takes off. There are a lot of features that Google needs to build out still and who knows how they’ll handle things like fan pages and music (a tie-in to Google Music could go along way against iCloud). I’d like to see people start using this and I hope Google builds and adds features quickly. I’ve only been using it for about 12 hours, but I already like it a lot and feel like it’s got a lot of potential to best Facebook.