Posted by Qz
We try our hands on Google’s latest foray into the social networking realm.
Google Plus, or Google+ if you will, is the newest attempt by Google to break into the huge social networking world. Here, we take you on a tour of the system at the core of Google’s assault on Facebook. One thing that it has going for it is that Google Plus is not Facebook. Another is that it presents a fun, unique user interface for an awesome experience. On that front, the top navigation bar is really neat, with network activity that is unobtrusive yet notifying at the same time.
Google+ entered a closed, special invitation-only testing stage this Tuesday, and we count ourselves among the ranks of the lucky few. Even though the service has some really neat features (more of that later), the deciding factor will be how integrated G+ is with the other Google services, and ultimately the rest of the web. Because, after all, that’s the only way that the service will be on competing grounds with the ‘other’ social network, Facebook. Even though it has been long delayed, the product is finally here, but some tweaks are in order.
Google Chat and Picasa are integrated into the service, and Yahoo! and Hotmail contacts can be imported. No Twitter integration comes as a surprise, because Twitter feeds are available in Buzz. There is no way to import your current Facebook contacts, but that’s hardly surprising, because naturally the two services are mutual rivals. However, such a feature would’ve been welcome.
There is a noticeable lack of integration of Google’s other services. For example, opening GMail opens up the service in a new tab. This is one aspect that really needs to be streamlined, because you need to actively switch from service to service. The gadgets that are already available under iGoogle could be an awesome way forward, intutive as they are.
Google has been prudent enough to not add too many things into the network automatically, and there are well-defined privacy guidelines for each feature. However, the central privacy settings are a gray area and need to be more defined.
Google has made it clear that Google+ is not finished, and will continue to be improved as the inevitable flaws and glitches surface. Google spokesman Chris Gaither has said that Google is more focused on getting the fledgling network up and running at present, rather than on advertising, but has clarified that personally identifiable information will not be sent to third parties, nor will personal information without express user consent. Even these policies need to be ironed out, and Google’s taking a wait-and-see approach. “The team has been reading feedback,” Gaither said, “and making note of what people have been saying so far.”
These are the most prominent features of the Google+
Circles: This is an entirely un-Facebookish way of friending. In Facebook, your brother is a friend, and your teacher is a friend, and a person you met on the bus is a friend, and so is your mother’s uncle’s son’s daughter’s cousin. Here, you can create separate circles of ‘friends’ such as Family, Classmates, Office Friends, etc to distinguish between categories much more conveniently, and it is easy to note the borders within which each circle exists. The interface for creating, managing and deleting circles is also awesome, and adds a whole lot of eye candy and satisfaction to the experience.
However, what’s lacking is the option to be able to keep information shared within a circle, within it. Because a friend can easily share something you shared in the mutual circle in another circle that they’re a member of, which defeats the whole idea of circles in a minor way. Iron it out, we say.
The Google Plus photo viewer is a no-nonsense photo viewer, and does the job without any frills. There is one downside, though. You can tag anybody using Picasa, and although Google notifies you when you are tagged and are then given the option to remove the tag, random tagging can turn out to be a real nuisance in this case. Uh-oh.
- Stream: This is Google+’s version of Facebook’s News Feed. It pulls in information from posts made by people in your circles. However, this is better in more ways than one. While the +1, the Google equivalent of Like, is the same old personal endorsement, the visuals are a class apart from News Feed. The minimalist interface is more intutive, as a result.
Feature-wise, there is an option to Mute (read, hide) any item in the Stream and hence block it out. Stream feeds can also be sorted out by circle, making it easy to see what’s going on within each circle. As far as sharing information is concerned, the interface is pretty much the same as Facebook. However, some options aren’t available on a post until it is live, so you have to publish the post and then edit these options. Granted, they are more than what Facebook offers, but still…
- Sparks: This is Google Plus’ version of a framework that sends users content that they wish to follow. It’s a nifty little feature, but it needs to be refined, because sometimes feeds don’t show up, and when they do, they’re often not in any sort of order. The glitches need to be removed.
- Hangouts: As the name implies, this is a cool feature. It is evidently a well-thought out, painstakingly finished feature, and it really shines. For those of you that don’t know, this is Google +’s video chat feature. Among the little touches that set it a class apart from even dedicated video chatters like Skype, are the little time that you’re given to make sure you’re presentable when joining the chat, and the ability to mute audio and/or video. Also, Google has integrated YouTube into Hangouts so that you can watch videos together, and a push-to-talk feature activates while you’re watching a video to keep the speaker feedback from hurting your ears. Altogether, this works like a charm, and, frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it before. Kudos, Google.