Google Plus Review Deep Dive




Google Plus Review

I was one of the few to get an early invite to Google’s new social networking platform. I’ve been using it for about two weeks now and find the platform to be very interesting in what it has to offer and where I think it will go.

In a job interview, you can tell in the first two minutes who the applicant is, the same goes for new technology. In the first two days, you can tell that this has a lot of potential and isn’t going away.

Unlike other Google attempts at social media (Buzz, Google Wave, and other attempts), I think this one is here to stay. This isn’t going to disappear and end up in the recycle bin of history.

I’ve been programming on the internet and using various forms of internet technology since the internet was born, and I feel that I can recognize a good thing when I see it. This is a good thing that will stick around.

Some Background: Why Google Plus?

Google likes to do things better. They believe that their concept and implementation of a social network is better than all of the others. That being said…

Facebook has supplanted Google as the most visited page online. Google is losing a lot of dollars from advertisers. As with all Google services, they start out free and without advertising, but evetually end up serving advertising to people. I am sure that the future of G+ will have lots of advertisements, but for now it is very clean and clutter free.

Facebook is able to offer up narrowly targetted ads. If you wanted an advertisment to appear on all pages that a male Muslim cardiologist between the ages 29-32 views every day, you can target all 50 of them (and only them). That is very powerful.

Can Google Win?

I don’t view this as a competition, but it probably is. Don’t count Google out. Google isn’t in this because they have an altruistic view of the world where they want to provide a better alternative to Facebook. Sure, that may be part of it. But they really want is part of the pie. Google has done this time and time again, and I would not count them out.

When we had just iPhone, Blackberry, Windows CE, and Palm platforms on smartphones, Google set out to make an alternative that was better. They were asked time and time again, “Why the new platform?” Don’t we have enough mobile operating systems in the market? Sure, we had plenty. But Google created a better, faster, more intuitive, cleaner product with less bugs, and now owns the largest share of operating systems on smartphones. Further, there are more Google Android new smartphone activations than any other mobile operating system, and the gap will only widen. And for good reason. Faster, better, more powerful, more features, open source, all of this adds up to more people quickly converting.

Nearly, every market Google has jumped into they have made significant improvements to the way we think about that technology. What was email like before Google Mail (gmail)? What happened to MapQuest after Google Maps? What happend to AIM after Google Chat?

Google’s forray into the social media platform isn’t half-baked this time around. It looks like they have put their full weight and resources behind this product. Sure, the motive may be a financial one. But if they create the best product out there, people will convert over and the money will flow with it. You could tell immediately that Google Wave or Google Buzz weren’t going to take off. And they didn’t. This is different.

The fact that G+ will integrate so well with smartphones, will give it a huge advantage. I don’t think they will overtake or subplant Facebook anytime soon, that’s hard to do. But they can grab a lot of market share as people will try to maintain simultaneous accounts on both platforms. Facebook really needs to start cranking out new features and put on their thinking caps. Arrogance and sitting on your laurels will only shrink the gap faster.

Marketing of G+

So far, Google is marketing this very well. The intrigue and mystery surrounding an invitation-only membership has a lot of allure. This is similar to their successful marketing when they launched Google Mail (gmail). People wanted in and wanted to be invited. This marketing is working. The limited number of initial users and testers will help Google iron out the kinks, but will also cause more buzz (ah, the irony).

Comparisons to Facebook

While G+ isn’t Facebook, it still is Facebook. It’s supposed to be a social networking site, but they also don’t want to be Facebook. They also aren’t trying to be LinkedIn, a social website for professionals looking for business. Everyone on LinkedIn uses it for business ocassionally, while maintaining a Facebook profile for pleasure. Realistically, most people use their Facebook for everything business and personal. I maintain both a LinkedIn and Facebook account, and I can’t remember the last time I checked in on my LinkedIn account.

Google + Plus hopes to run parallel with Facebook, with most people checking both just as often. The deep integration into the most popular smartphone platform will make it nearly impossible to not check your G+ as often as your Facebook. While trying to not be Facebook, G+ is still trying to be like Facebook. and eventually, surpass it.

Moving on

With all of that background information, let’s take a look at the actual G+ platform and what it has to offer.

First Impressions

This is a well developed platform. They have put a lot of time, money, and thought into this platform. The web application, as well as the mobile application, are very well thought out and implemented. The mobile app version was not an afterthought. It is actually well developed and well implemented. Perhaps, it even came first. The Facebook mobile app is a little clumsy and difficult to use to do everything that you can do from the web application. Android phone users will love this application. The iPhone version is in it’s last phase of testing as of this publication, and I am sure it will be just as good.

Circles

The G+ infrastructure is built around circles. Circles are your own private categories that you place people into. There are some default circles that are available when you join (family, friends, acquaintences, etc) but you can create your own. You can neatly place all your contacts into these circles (aka categories). they don’t have to place you into their circles. That’s the main concept in G+.

They can also place you in their own privately named circles, but they don’t have to.

There aren’t any friends requests. You just place people in circles and they may also do the same, but they don’t have to. For example, I may place my boss in a co-worker circle. He doesn’t have to put me in any circle at all. I will only end up seeing public things he posts. Basically, I just follow him. If doesn’t post anything public, I will think he doesn’t do anything with his G+ account.

It’s sort of a combination of Facebook and Twitter. You sort of follow and friend people, but not really. You will get it once you use it.

I may also decide to place Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway, into a circle. I can put him in any of my circles; friends, family, or any other circle. I would probably put him in my “following” circle, since I doubt he will ever also place me in a circle. I follow his public posts, but this doesn’t mean he follows me. He can check and see who has placed him in circles, but not what those circles are called. This is akin to seeing who follows you on Twitter. It’s kind of a combination of Twitter and Facebook. I would hope that John Elway would also place me in a circle (follow me) at some point in the future.

Hence, there is no reciprocating “friend request”. People can follow, post, share with who they want. They are in full control. When you do decide to share or post something you can choose to share it with just one circle, all your circles, public, or specific people. Google is big on privacy, and it shows. Speaking of privacy…

Security and Privacy

Google has made security and privacy a central theme in G+. You can quickly place your contacts in various circles (or more than one circle) and they never know what circle you placed them in. If I place some people into a circle called “Friends I hate”, they will never know it. They will just see that I have placed them into a cirlce (i.e. I am followig them). Facebook, on the other hand, tells each person what category you placed them into. Can lead to awkward “Ah Ha” moments when you find out the person who you thought was your best friend placed you into the “random people” category.

You can download your entire G+ account and delete it complete with the touch of a button. You can then restore everything from a backup file or move it however you like. Trying deleting your profile on Facebook, it’s nearly impossible. They make you jump through hoops. These settings are found under your account settings in the data liberation section.

Sharing

You can share anything you want, links videos, photos, status updates, but the caveat is that you decide which circles to share them with. You can share with the public, all circles, friends, acquaintences, or specific people. This is different than Facebook, where anything you share automatically appears on your wall for all to see. Sure, in Facebook you can put people into categories, but it is very clumsy and time-consuming and nearly impossible to do if you have more than a handful of friends.

You can not post something on someone else wall. There are no walls. All you can control is your own feed. You can decide to post something to share with just that certain person, which seems similar to posting on their wall, but it isn’t. It just appears in your stream and their stream. It takes a little getting used to, but it works.

+1

There is no way to “Like” a post.  You can however give it a “plus one” by pressing the +1 button. This is the equivalent of publicly “liking” something. Websites have been using this for a while now. It’s been Google’s new replacement to the dying “Buzz” button. You can still Buzz things, but now they want you to +1 instead. Google has just incoporated the +1 button into Google Plus now.

Instant Uploads

This feature is an amazing feature and makes life easier. Should you choose to enable this feature on your phone, it will automatically upload any and all photos taken from your phone to your profile. You can later decide which ones to share and with which circles to share them with. This saves time and effort. You no longer have to go to your gallery, click on share, choose Facebook or G+, then wait for it to upload. It all happens instantly. This works on all Android phones and will also be available on the iPhone app, once you install it.

How easy is that? All those pictures that you’ve taken that go unshared and never viewed by anyone else? You can instantly share them. Or when you get home at night, and you see that the one picture looks really good on your larger size monitor, you can click on it and share it instantly. It’s already uploaded.

Huddles

This is a group chat feature through the G+ mobile app. Similar to the GroupMe app, it allows you to chat with multiple people at the same time. It is only available on the G+ mobile app and not the web app. Throughout the day, you can send messages, pictures, links back and forth among your friends either through the app or through text messages.

On the web application, you can create group chats by inviting more people to an already started chat with one person. You can only add individuals one by one now. However, in the future they should allow for adding entire circles. I’d like to be able to start a group text chat with all my “family” members. Which brings us to the next feature…

Hangouts

These are group video chats. You can invite a person, group of people, or an entire cirlce to hangout on a video chat. All of the people will show up under the main large video screen, the person currently talking is the large screen. You can also text chat on the side, share YouTube videos, or mute people as you see fit. It’s a very awesome group video chat feature.

I think that Google figured that if you were going to group chat while on the website (on a large computer) that it might as well be a group video chat, as opposed to just text chatting with a group. By now, every home computer and laptop have an integrated webcam, so we might as well use it. If you don’t have a webcam, you just can watch them all and hear them all, but all you can do is chat via text chatting.

If you really feel the need, you can still text chat with a group, but you have to invite them all individually. It uses the same Google Chat that you are used to using with your Gmail account.

New Friends

I’ve always wanted a way to find nearby friends with similar interests that I have never met before. Say you are a single guy that wants to find nearby single females to go get drinks at the local bar. G+ has a way to do that with the mobile application, as well as the website. On the mobile appliction, you can slide over and look for public posts and public nearby check-ins. You can then interact with those people. There is no way to do that on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or any of the other current offerrings. All the other social apps allow you to follow and share with known friends, but not unknown people. This could provide to be very useful. And if these location services get integrated into the Google location services like Maps and Latitude, you can quickly search for random people around you that you have never met before.

Imagine being at a football game or concert and firing up your G+ Latitude or Maps and looking for people at the same event and venue and send them chats or instant messages? That’s powerful.

Or you are at a cardiology conference and scan the G+ Map for others at the conference and then look for them or interact with them? How awesome is that?

They need to develop this functionality and feature set more and incorporate more of the public geo-location data and Latitude services into G+ so that people can find each other and meet new people instead of just people they know. Whenever I open up Google Latitude all I see is myself, my wife, and the 2 other people that have decide to share their locations with me. Imagine a smattering of people to choose from. Of course, they would have to consent to share their location publicly.

Sparks

These are interests. If you are interested in the Denver Broncos, you can add that as a spark. It shows up with a stream of information on the Denver Broncos mainly from Google Search, news feeds and RSS feeds. You can customize these. But it puts Google Reader functionality right into your social platform. For now, all you can do is share these stories and Sparks on your feed, but I am sure at some point you will be able to have discussions and form groups related to these interests. These needs to be developed further and will likely incorporate Google Groups into this section so that you can have on-going discussions on certain topics, posts, articles.

Blog

Currently, you have no way to “blog” or post notes, or your own writings to G+. I assume that Google will incorporate it’s blogging platform (Blogger.com, now called Google Blog) into your profile so that people can read your writings and opinions on various topics. They have aleady re-named it Google Blog, which is a first step. This needs to be incorporated into the G+ platform.

Other Google Applications

Wether you are checking your Google Mail, Google Documents, Google Maps, Google Latitude, Google Calendar, Google Pictures (Picasa), Google Reader, they are all now very well inter-connected to one another and will become even more interrelated.

Google needs to find a great way to incorporate all of these together seemlessly so that they all help each other and help our online experience be more useful.

Numbers Game?

According to the latest figures there are 750 million Facebook users and 200 million Gmail users. That isn’t too far off. Like with all other Google features that were added, anyone with a Gmail account will soon also have a G+ account incorporated right at the top. If you add all of the Google Maps, Adsense, Adwords, and Analytics account holders you could well have over 500 million people with accounts to log into Google services. The numbers are closer than most people realize. Google just hadn’t found a really good way to get everyone to use their social platforms. It didn’t help that their social platforms weren’t well constructed.

Google Account

Soon, you will be logging in to just your “Google Account”. From there you can manage your Gmail, Documents, Reader, Calendar, Adsense/Adword revenues, Blog, as well as many other features.

Future Improvements

I’d like to see stronger integration of all Google applications. When you log in to your Google Account you should see upcoming events on your calendar, see who has posted new pictures, shared new links, circle additions, update that last blog entry, edit the figures in your spreadsheet, etc. There should be a nice organized welcome page with all of these activites and things pulled in from the various Google Services. Similar to a “Today” page in the email, contact, and calendar management software that was Microsoft Outlook. You can add to this page and remove items from this page or reorganize as needed. Similar to how you can adjust your iGoogle splash page now.

Universal search is sorely needed. I’d like to be able to search my streams for all posts and shares and links ever posted. If I posted a link 2 years ago to a video I liked, I want to be able to go back and search for it.

I’d like to see a way to import blog posts automatically from other blogging platforms (if you wanted to).

I’d like to see deeper integration of all Google Services. I know this is coming, but they should focus on this. For example, if a friend commets on my post, I want to be able to hover over their name and see where they are right now, and then click on that location on the map and see how many other (non-friends) are there that I could reach out to.

Corporate accounts should be allowed and encouraged. This would be similar to Facebook pages for companies. Nearly every corporation has a Facebook page that you can “Like” join. Google should allow Coca Cola to have an account, post updates, pictures, articles, and then people could “follow” them. And by follow, I mean add them to a circle. Further, an individual should be able to start these multiple “corporate” pages/accounts and manage them all from one single login. As well as have the ability to post and share and comment from the corporate account.

A google.com/username service to give people a quick short link to their page. Similar to facebook.com/MohammedAlo, I would like my Google profile to be accessible from google.com/MohammedAlo. That would make life easier.

If you continually press the “x” by a contact’s name, meaning you don’t want to add that person to a circle, it shouldn’t keep showing up. I don’t want to add customerservice@bestbuy.com to any circles. Pressing the “x” should take them out of the queue permanently.

As I think of more uses and improvements, I will add them here.

I will also update my Social Marketing for Professionals post to include Google Plus.

You can read Mashable’s Complete Google Plus Guide for even more information.