Google Plus: First Impressions

Jun 30, 2011 • Uncategorized
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Google, they’ve cracked a nut here. With Wave being an experiment, and Buzz being a dead duck from the get go, Google Plus (Google+) is actually a usable, integrated, complete-feeling product released this week, and it’s pretty damn good. I have my suspicions on whether or not it will stick; but I’m leaning more toward “yes” than “no”, unlike Buzz and Wave.

When I used Wave, I could see how neat it was, but it was a terrible implementation of the power of XMPP and was summarized as nothing more than a glorified chat program and playground for developers. From what I remember, Wave wasn’t supposed to be a mainstream platform for the public. It was open to a lot of people, but it’s not like Google created an Android App and integrated it with Gmail or anything (did they?).

Then there was Buzz; a bastard child copycat of FriendFeed, or the Facebook timeline, and god knows whatever else. I saw no need for it and rarely used it. I thought it was diluting an already crowded space (online conversation); and it’s pretty much little more than a place where people repost all their crap from all over the place (aka: FriendFeed). It was, and actually still is – useless, in that regard.

Now, there’s Google+.

Before I get into it, there’s a few things I believe that are critical for a new website that relies on user interactions to succeed:

  1. Easy – if it takes more that 5 seconds to make something happen, and more than 10 minutes to figure it all out, you’re screwed
  2. Mobile – you have got to be mobile, and the mobile has to add value that the website either doesn’t or accompanies
  3. Tablet capable – People and their damned tablets…
  4. Fast – we’re an impatient bunch of users these days. Very impatient. Tenths of a second impatient. The solution’s gotta be lightening.
  5. Integrated – it needs to sing along with a tune that goes beyond just your website.
  6. Privacy – if your privacy controls aren’t 100%, they’re at 0%.

I’ve only used the Mobile (Android) and Desktop (Chrome/Firefox) experiences

Easy (7:09 PST)

Google+ is familiar, right away there’s a “Share what’s new” box with an added bonus to share photos, videos, links or places, right from the input box. Snappy. It has a Facebook feel (three column layout, actions in the header, top bar for notifications); which gets you rolling right away, and (if you use Gmail) there’s a bunch of familiar faces to click on almost immediately.

The tool tips are helpful for those “wtf is that icon” moment, but instead of the typical “this is so confusing” moments, I was actually going “ooooo, what’s this?”.

Mobile (7:25 PST)

After clicking around for a few minutes, and seeing who was using the site, reading a few posts and getting a feel for things — I remembered a video that showcased something called “Instant Upload”. I was more curious about this feature than I was about Google+ as a whole, so I hunted down the Android App from the Marketplace. Installation and setup was a breeze and it integrated seamlessly with the camera and gallery.

I snapped a photo of the Desktension, set the visibility to “Public”, and it was off to the Internets lickity-split. I’ve shared photos on TwitPic, YFrog, PixelPipe and Shozu as photo sharing services, and this was a far superior experience. Even though those services are pretty simple in themselves, there’s something about an application that leverages your camera directly, as it was designed to function, to share with your online community, without effort.

As far as staying connected via your phone, there are push notification available to you as well. The notifications are all customizable, as you would expect. If you want an email whenever someone does something, you’ll can get one. If you want a push notification to your mobile, you can get that too — or you can get neither or both, it’s all up to you.

Tablets

I don’t have one of these things anymore, but I’ve got my eye on one in the near future. Probably the Transformer, or some other Android breed. My only apprehension is that my home network is a stronghold behind my server configuration; I’d much prefer a Windows tablet. We’ll see how that goes…

If anyone of the dozen people who read this have a tablet and access to Google+, I’d like to hear your feedback.

Speed (8:14 PST)

Holy cow is Google+ fast and responsive. I understand that it’s not being abused by the masses just yet, but God willing, it won’t be long until there’s at least ten million users on it.

When it came to the more intense features, like “Hangout”, the speed was still impressive. Hangout is an “up to ten person” video chat; there is some lag, here, but nothing terrible, and to be honest – it’s a little expected. That many video feeds being dumped into my browser at once, with a Google Chat and even YouTube option for even more communication and sharing… it’s bound to get a little jumpy in your browser.

Integrated (8:33 PST)

Google+ is integrated heavily with Google stuff; GTalk is on the left, chats show up in the bottom right, just like it does in Gmail. The mobile-app for Android is a perfect blend of features of the hardware on the phone and the features of Google+. Instant upload is dead simple, as I mentioned above, but there’s also Huddle.

Huddle is a group mobile messaging protocol where you can interact with as many people as you have in your Circles.

Circles are the buckets in which you categorize your connections on Google+; “Family”, “Friends”, etc.

Privacy (9:17 PST)

From what I can see so far, Google played this product’s implementation a lot safer than they did with the whole Buzz fiasco. You start out by separating the people you connect to into Circles, then each thing you share you can segment to those Circles (or just make it Public and run with it). The segmentation by Circle even applies to links, photos and places you share; dead simple. Huddle, on the mobile phone, is the same way. You select who you want to communicate with, and those messages only appear to those people selected.

There’s also a way to step out of something. Example being, you can undo your +1 updates, edit your posts and outright remove them. Good things to have, just in case you need to backtrack.

There’s also the whole “export your data” feature. Yes, you can export everything, and it comes to you in standard file types:

Data Liberation via Google Takeout

  • Download your Picasa Web Album Photos (filetype: zip)
  • Download your Profile data (filetype: json)
  • Download your Stream data (filetype: zip)
  • Download your Buzz data #wtf (filetype: zip)
  • Download your Circles and Contacts (filetype:zip)

Now, I didn’t even know Google Takeout existed, but it’s pretty bad ass, and it goes hand-in-hand with the Integration practices executed with the rest of this product. I just tried the service right now and it worked like a champ. This is one of those things to consider even if you’re not using Google+ but are using the other services supported by this.

  • Google Buzz
  • Google Contacts
  • Picasa
  • Google Profile (Google+)
  • Google Stream (Google+)

My Take

I think Google+ has the power and features for a serious contender in the market share of the social web. It’s not simply a social network that allows you to post photos and stalk your parents; it’s a communication platform, integrated with your mobile device, developed with the latest web technologies, and it’s coming out guns blazing to a bunch of people probably sick of staring at that flat blue color while sifting through Farmville status updates and automated likes from spam-canon .info sites.

Having +1 for publishers, Google+ for web and tablets, as well as the seamless Android integration out of the gate, I can see that Google is pretty serious about this implementation. After all, with Buzz being a waste of time, Wave being a small experiment, and Orkut being unheard of in larger markets, it makes sense to me that Google+ could very well end up being the platform the Google needs to disrupt the social space, and they’re doing it with enhanced communication.

Now, if they can find a way to have people be an “audience” member of the Hangout feature, they’d have themselves an even bigger solution.

Enrique Gutierrez

Sometimes a few things go a long way. In the case of Enrique Gutierrez, those few things include systems admin, network admin, software engineer, web developer, graphic designer, video editor, and audio engineer. For TechZulu, he's the officer of things Technical.

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  • Anonymous

    Freaking EH!!! Amen brothah!!!

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