If you have a pulse, there is a good chance that you've heard the buzz about Google's latest foray into the world of social networking. Their new offering is called Google + (that's pronounced "Google Plus") and at first blush, it seems to have hit the mark. Although the new social network is still in closed beta (invite only), It has already amassed north of 10 million users. More importantly, numerous online influencers like Chris Brogan, David Armano and Robert Scoble have spent dozens if not hundreds of hours kicking the tires. For anyone that follows social media, getting the "in" crowd to adopt a new technology or social media is key to greater adoption.
As someone that has spent time personally and professionally with social media for six plus years, I've been intrigued with the possibilities that Google + offers. This curiosity comes with a healthy dose of skepticism on my part given Google's poor track record of building and acquiring companies and services such as Jaiku, Wave, Dodgeball and Buzz. In spite of that skepticism, I've spend the better part of the last few weeks watching, posting and commenting on Google +. During that time, I've had a chance to witness some of the good, the bad and the ugly with Google's latest offering.
One of the main reasons that Google + is taking off the way it is is because they seem to have gotten the friending/privacy/social graph right via a convention called Circles. Circles are powerful for a few different reasons:
The circles come pre-set (although you can customize) so right out of the gate you can start adding people to buckets titled, "Family, Friends, Acquaintances, Following and Work." In order to connect with someone (the equivalent of following or friending), you need to put them in a circle.
As a result of the bucketing connections into circles requirement, all of your connections end up in pre-defined groups. This allows you to decide which circle or circles you want to share with every time you post. This is a big win on the privacy front.
Unlike Twitter lists or Facebook Groups, you can not only view your circles by different criteria including first name, last name, relevance and recently updated but users also have the option to see only a stream from a specific circle or to view that circle's activity in a separate tab.
Although I haven't tried them yet, I do like the concept of the Hangouts on Google + or the ability to spontaneously create group chats (text and video) with your connections. You can add and subtract people from these groups on the fly giving you flexibility.
Probably the biggest opportunity for Google + is its ability to meet the need of social for business. If you think about it, Facebook is much more for personal interactions than business interactions (although important for businesses to play a role). LinkedIn is for business but still isn't particularly social. Twitter falls somewhere in between but doesn't allow for the robust conversation threading and image/video sharing that Google + and Facebook do. Even better, Google + has the opportunity to be the social glue that sits between all of Google's apps and tools (Docs, Maps, Blogger, Picasa, etc.) This creates all sorts of internal and external collaboration opportunities over time.
Two of the biggest knocks on Google + so far are the lack of groups (one of the more valuable features of Facebook) and the awkwardness around multiple people mentioning a post (this would be the equivalent of re-tweeting on Twitter). In the first case, I'm guessing that Google will fix this soon by adding in a type of public or private circle that users can administer. On the latter, I'm also assuming that a solution like collapsing posts in one's stream that share redundant information so that they take up less room makes sense.
Lack of business pages also falls into the "bad" category. Companies like Ford and NPR News have been allowed in to test the service but as of yet, Google + is not yet open for companies to sign up. While many consumers may consider this an actual plus, I know of a lot of companies that are champing at the bit to get in and start to test this shiny new tool. We all know that Google will eventually allow for business usage but hopefully they don't wait too long.
I'm happy to report that there really isn't that much ugly with Google +. The few things that would fall in this category are more nuisances than major flaws. For one, the mobile app (just made available to iPhone users today) still doesn't allow for notifying one's connections using the "+" sign (similar to the @ sign in Twitter and Facebook). This applies to both posts and comments. Instead, it looks up gmail addresses and other search garbage.
Another item in the "ugly" category is a feature that is near and dear to my heart i.e. Google +'s check-in functionality. My experience with the Web version is that it's not that accurate. After downloading the iPhone version, it seems like the geotargeting there is better but it has a much narrower database of places (at least at present) to draw upon than those of Facebook or foursquare. With all the geo data that Google has via its Maps and Places services, I would think this would be stronger out of the gate.
Are you using Google + yet? If so, what has your experience been? And will you plan to use it instead of Facebook and Twitter or as a complementary service?