Plus One

Posted on Sun 17 July 2011 by alex in geek

Well I've been playing with Google+ for a week and a bit now so I thought I would add some punditry to the swirling ether of the 'net. For a product that hasn't even earned the famed Google Beta tag it's already been rolled out to around 10 million people. A good percentage of my social graph have managed to find their way onto the network. Invites now seem to be permanently open so do let me know if you want one.

So the first thing that struck me about G+ was the circle implementation. It's not surprising that it's such a fundamental part of the experience. I recall seeing a presentation by a Googler some time ago where they discussed the types of relationships people have, the sort of things people share and with whom. While Facebook does allow you to set up friends lists and restrict posts to certain groups the G+ setup is a lot more intuitive and built into every aspect of the service. For example I'm fairly careful about posting my location on-line. Even though I use services like Latitude most people are restricted to City level information unless it's likely to be useful for them to know where I am (for example on a stag weekend). While not many people use Latitude being able to "check-in" to a location that may be relevant to a subset of people is quite a nice ability.

There are a couple of gripes about the circle implementation. The first is duplicates. I have a number of people duplicated because they were originally dragged from my Gmail contacts but have then subsequently joined. It would be nice to have an easy way to group them together and have Google Do The Right Thing (tm).

The second is the default circle screen needs a little work for small screen setups like my netbook. Having created quite a number of circles the screen real estate gets quite tight when trying to add more people to them.

Other nice features include the group video chat known as "Hangouts". It works out of the box on Linux although it does require a proprietary plugin to work. I haven't had more than a cursory play with it so far but it certainly seems slick enough from what I've seen. It's also nice to have an alternative to Skype who's Linux support could disappear any day now Microsoft have taken it over.

The mobile app offers the "Huddle" which is a simple group chat facility. I can see this probably being of most use when catching up with a group of people on some sort of shared activity like a pub crawl.

The photo facility is fairly slick although I don't think it's quite got the edge on Facebook's auto-tagging feature. It remains to be seen how else they will pimp it up. Certainly it's nice to be able to upload everything from Shotwell as it basically re-uses the Picassa infrastructure. It sure beats fighting with the basic upload facility Facebook offers.

The one major omission and probably biggest reason I use Facebook is for event management. For all the problems associated with inviting people only in the walled garden Facebook's event creation/invite system is pretty slick. I suspect Google are planning some sort of event/calender integration. I hope when they do they make it easy to add emails so people don't have to be in G+ to receive invites.

So is it time to close down my Facebook account? Well for the time being probably not. Facebook does have the incumbents advantage given almost everyone who wants a social networking account will have one. However I'll certainly be using G+ in preference for sharing photos and private status updates. Google's Data Liberation Front give me more confidence that my data won't be kept away from me. It will also be interesting to see what APIs Google release for the platform. Perhaps the biggest problem with Facebook apps is the privacy implications of sharing your data with a third party. It will be interesting seeing how they balance the privacy-centric nature of the G+ ethos with the ability to do cool stuff in the social sphere.