Review: Google+, Reinvigorating the Social Scene

Google+ is Google's latest venture into social networking. With innovative features like Circles and Hangouts, Google+ ought to be considered a veritable contender in the social networking scene.

The term “social networking” typically elicits thoughts of the behemoth that is Facebook—with a surplus of 750 million users, Facebook is undoubtedly the king of the social realm. A challenger to Facebook’s throne, however, has emerged in the form of Google+. Equipped with multiple unique features and packaged in a sleek interface, Google’s service has entered the social scene well-armed.

The Interface: Like Facebook, but Cleaner
In terms of layout, Google+ makes no pretenses about originality, borrowing heavily from Facebook. For most core Facebook features, there is a Google+ counterpart: users have profiles; content is centralized in a “Stream”; pictures can be tagged; shared items can be “+1’d”, or “liked”, in Facebook lingo; and so on.

Despite the similarities between the two, Google+ looks and feels much cleaner than Facebook, thanks to the modern color scheme and minimalistic design. Google+ even manages to subtly integrate itself with other Google products through a thin black header strip and “+1” buttons sprinkled around the web.

Revolving around Circles

Google+ encourages users to place their peers into appropriate social Circles, allowing them to choose with which group(s) they'd like to share specific content items.

Google+ differentiates itself from Facebook through the manner in which networks are organized and content is shared. Instead of blasting some 500 “friends” with posts and statuses, Google+ focuses on sharing media with select groups of people, or Circles. You may have a Circle for friends, acquaintances, family, co-workers, whatever—you are encouraged to create and delete Circles that best emulate your personal relationships. In order to avoid needless drama, Google+ ensures that your placement of your peers in Circles remains private. No longer must teens feel awkward about adding their parents—simply plop them in a family Circle and they’ll only see what you choose to share with them.

The focus on Circles notably changes the Facebook concept of content sharing. Whenever you share media in Google+, you are asked to choose with which circle or individual you would like to interact. This results on a greater focus on pure content sharing. While Facebook revolves around Wall posts and such, Google+ places greater emphasis on sharing media found around the web. Indeed, Google+ does not even implement an equivalent to the Facebook Wall.

Sparking Content Sharing
In accordance with Google’s take on content sharing, Google+ includes a feature named “Sparks”, which pushes you articles based on interests that you elect and allows you to share interesting news with your Circles. This interweaving of social networking and content sharing is a novel idea, although the actual implementation remains a bit rough. Minor annoyances such as a lack of strict chronology in article organization will likely be ironed out once Google+ graduates from its beta status.

Hanging Out—Virtually, that is

People can casually drop in and out of Google "Hangouts" to video chat and watch Youtube videos.

One of the most interesting features of Google+ is its implementation of video chat. Instead of the phone-call-esque system of video calling, Google+ includes “Hangouts”. A Hangout is the virtual counterpart of, well, hanging out.

You initiate a hangout by simply clicking a button and inviting a Circle or individuals. Notifications are sent to the invitees, who can chose to opt in or out of the hangout. You’re then dropped in a video conference by yourself, while you wait for others to come and go; the incorporation of group Youtube watching is an added plus. The passivity of it all is refreshing, as Hangouts allow you to continually spend time with friends without feeling obliged to answer direct video calls.

Integrating the Androids and others
Google+ is robustly integrated with the mobile scene, although the Google+ app is available only on Android devices as of now. The mobile site and app contain all the expected features, with a few added perks. The Google+ app boasts “Huddles”, which are essentially cross-platform group chats. The most notable feature of the app, however, is the “Instant Upload” option, which, when enabled, instantaneously uploads your mobile pictures to a private album on Google+. Google+ definitely trumps Facebook in such cross-platform integration.

The Verdict
Google+ shows much promise; the emphasis on Circles, the tweaked video chat service, and the inclusion of Instant Upload are particularly noteworthy. Google’s social network does lack certain features implemented in Facebook, such as events; however, Google will probably introduce new components as its service evolves.

Whether Google’s David can slay the Facebook Goliath depends upon whether the former can convince enough people to switch sides. Perhaps Google+, with its innovative features, will manage to convert enough Facebook users. Or perhaps the Google+ threat will simply spur Facebook to evolve for the better, as we’ve seen already with Facebook’s recent integration of Skype.

Whatever the case, with its circular spin on content sharing and social networking, Google+ deserves a “+1”.

Google+ is currently in restricted beta. If you want access to Google+, leave a comment below with your email address and I’ll send you an invitation.


    • Akshay,

      Some people at the lab were talking about Google+ and I showed them this article–it explains quite nicely the new and different features of the network. Kudos!

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