With all the recent hoo-ha, excitement and chatter about Google’s new shiny “facebook-killing” social network, Google+, I thought I’d scribble down a few of the thoughts I’ve had since signing up and playing around with the service.

First Impressions

The first thing that struck me was the level of polish already achieved. Slick this most definitely is. Design hasn’t always been Google’s bag but they’ve certainly pulled out all the stops this time, plus its quality for a beta is exceptional. Sure they haven’t perfected all aspects of it yet but the right intentions are there from the outset and many of the features are fun and easy to use. They also have a nice easy feedback feature so that you can let the issues be known and get them fixed, which is the purpose of a beta anyway.

The little touches and flourishes added make it a joy to use, they ensure it is the hedonic characteristics of the system that result in the users having a satisfying and positive user experience — something I’ve rarely seen Google invest that much time in before.

Key Features

Circles

Barring the awesome interface for adding people to circles I must admit I have mixed feelings about them. They are quite useful for some things but how useful they will be in reality I’m not sure.

Google Circles UI

Google+ Circles UI

I can see their use in a filtering sense. Depending on mood, time available and other factors I can just view the stuff (circle) I want to. It gives me a little bit of extra control over what I will consume.
I suppose they are also useful if you are an organised type and like to do things like group your contacts.

However, is that where their usefulness ends?

“Add circles or people to share with…” The extra step, the extra cognitive load added to the sharing action bemuses me. Obviously you don’t have to use it but then if you don’t use it can’t be useful. It is different to the way I currently use social networks. Facebook is a place for my friends, my old school mates and people I have fun social friendly experiences with. Twitter is my informal professional network, there’s friends from work, acquaintances, people I admire in the industry and other interesting people on there. I use each service with a different set of goals and desires in mind. Facebook is for fun, for keeping in touch with friends and organising to see them. Twitter is for mixing with people from the web industry, immersing myself in interesting things and maybe if my followers are lucky sharing something interesting. Google+ is trying to say I can do all this from one place, I just need to know what I’m doing when. It is adding extra considerations, adding to the thought process of sharing or doing something.

I use a particular service with a particular mindset with no mid action switch-a-roos required. I’m set, I’m ready, I know what I’m doing and want to do. Or at least my subconscious does. Google+, with its circles, changes this and brings things into my conscious mind. I think it makes me do more work. If it’s more difficult, it’ll be tiring, it’ll be too much effort, I’ll stop using it. I’m exaggerating but I hope you get my point.

Hangouts

This seems to be a current trend, you’d think everyone must want to video call all the time given the speed at which all the big tech companies are churning this out at. Google+ Hangouts lets you do it, Facebook now let you do it too. Apple with its facetime lets you do it. Will you do it often? Maybe.

Sparks

I’m not sure what benefit I’ll get from the sparks thing. Like many many many people I already have way too much useful and interesting information to wade through. I really don’t need more.

If it is better than what people use to find relevant content now then maybe it will be useful but I can’t see how it will be better. I have meticulously selected who I follow on twitter and what blogs my RSS reader checks. Both things are constantly bombarding me with stuff I want to check out and read which is why my browser suffers from a bad case of tabitus and my instapaper account, twitter favourites and delicious bookmarks are overflowing with things to read later.

Huddle

Chat.

Further Thoughts

In my opinion the big thing Google+ has going for it is it’s excellent integration across the suite of Google tools. Google+ notifications are there displayed in the Google bar at all times. Google’s services are services people use daily which means they will be in touching distance of Google+ on many many occasions throughout the day. Therefore it is integrated into my daily tasks. I can see if I have notifications and I can read and interact with them without ever leaving the page I’m on, resulting in only a temporary interruption to the task at hand. This is a key point. With Google+ I no longer need to have the explicit intention of having a bit of social network time. It’s just there.

Integrated Notifications

Integrated Notifications and the like


Whilst bigging up the integration with Google’s other services I must admit I’m disappointed it isn’t more integrated with other things across the web. We don’t need another boxed off service. An example of this is the photos functionality which, at present, is nothing more than another place to upload photos. Why can’t I just pull in my Flickr photos or my Instagram photos and share them with people. Similarly, anything I do upload I want to be able to get back out on my terms. This would be a great plus point over Facebook. If Google want Google+ to become the main hub for my online time then it needs to improve in this area.

One more point I’ll make is that I do have some worries about it being created by Google. Not that Google don’t create cool stuff, they definitely do. However they create cool useful stuff, things that are practical and that complete tasks, tools. When they have strayed from this — Buzz — they have been less successful. Are they well positioned to create a social network? In someways yes but I for one would prefer it if they stuck to what they are the best at. The practical functional things like search and Gmail (and of course showing off their cleverness with the Google Doodles).
Tom Coates’ tweet summed it up pretty well:

“Fundamentally, Google is a utility. No one wants to hang out at their power company.”

What all this rambling boils down to is that I’m not 100% sold on Google+ yet, with the major factor being that I don’t yet see what it is doing for me, what problem it is fixing, what itch it is scratching but I do have an open mind and am willing to be convinced. So Google it’s up to you, convince me.

Update:
Sorry about the level of negativity, I didn’t realise. I have actually enjoyed using Google+ so far.