Overall, I have to say that I really like it. I like the way it looks, and I think it has been quite carefully put together so that it addresses some of the issues people have with other social networks. It is certainly better and hopefully has a better future than Google Buzz and Google Wave, both of which were sort of interesting but ultimately didn’t give people something they actually wanted to use.
The key to Google+ and its most important feature is its ‘circles’. Circles are a bit like Facebook groups, and allow you to arrange your connections on the site so they reflect your relationships with people in real life. More importantly, they allow you to share things only with certain people, so that you can happily use Google+ for sharing photos of you wasted with your friends without worrying that your boss will see them. That’s assuming of course that it always works correctly and keeps things private when it is supposed to, something which many of us have trouble trusting websites to do.
It is true that you can do something similar on Facebook with its various privacy settings, but, as other commentators have pointed out, with Google+ deciding who you share a post with is much more straightforward and is made much more obvious and upfront. They seem to have put privacy first and built the network up from there, rather than putting sharing first and adding privacy later in the style of Facebook.
The other key strength of Google+ is its tight and immediate integration with the rest of the services provided by Google. Clever appropriation of the top bar on all their services means that your notifications from Google+ are always instantly accessible, and the option to share something on Google+ is right there, all the time. This is a stroke of genius, as it drives you back to Google+ rather than counting on you choosing to return. There is still some work to do; for instance, I haven’t seen any way of sharing a post from Google Reader quickly in Google+, but I expect that will come.
There are definitely things lacking from the network at the moment, and things that could be improved. The circles are great, but many people seem to be asking for more flexibility with them – to be able to arrange them hierarchically, to put circles within circles, and to share things in more complicated ways (eg people at work BUT NOT managers – that sort of thing). The product is still in the development stage, and Google has been actively seeking feedback and suggestions, and has done a very good job so far of responding to them. I am sure therefore that Google+ will continue to evolve.
The fact that it is in a limited development stage though is its major, major flaw. Hardly anyone is on Google+, and even though the number is growing it is hamstringing the network. I joined last week and thought “wow, this is great”; by Monday I was getting bored. I can’t find any more people to add on it, and I’ve only reached 20. My activity stream hardly changes, and so I just get bored and go back onto Twitter.
They really need to open it up to more users, and quickly. They launched it with little fanfare and haven’t actively pushed it, but it generated excitement nonetheless and lots of people currently want to get on it and try it. If Google doesn’t seize and utilise that enthusiasm, they’ll be damaging the network’s prospects. It has momentum, but it is already losing it.
Like many things in life, people want to go where other people are. If you see an empty bar, you choose not to go into it because it’s empty and empty bars are boring. The bar remains empty, and the bar closes with the owner scratching his head wondering where he went wrong. Google is in danger of doing this if it doesn’t pull more punters in and quickly.
Google+ is good but it needs more bums on seats.