Last week Google unveiled its latest venture into the social network game, Google+. After previous social networking flops such as Google Buzz and Wave, Google+ has received glowing praise from the tech world and early beta users alike.
A positive early reception is a great start for Google+, but what does it have to tempt users away from Facebook? Mat Murray, Online Content Manager for fuse8, gives us five reasons to leave Facebook and join Google+.
Friend filters done right
Twitter has Lists, Facebook has Friend Lists, but Google+ has Circles. Circles allow you to group your friends and contacts, giving you the ability to share content and information with certain groups people, instead of broadcasting it to the world. Filters on social networks are nothing new, but what makes Circles a bit different is how prominent they are in everything you do in Google+.
When you first add a friend, you are asked to add them to a Circle, when you want to chat to friends in the Google Talk-like chatbox, you can select which Circles to chat to, ‘Circles’ is one of the four main menu options at the top of the page, and one of the filters down the side of the page. Circles are so prominent, the service could have been called GoogleCircles.
When I want to share a specific bit of news or content with a certain group of friends on Facebook, I send a group message. With Google+ and Circles however, I can post to my stream like normal, safe in the knowledge that only certain people can see what I’ve posted.
Thanks to the way Google+ is built around Circles and specifying which friends see which updates, I can see myself using Circles way more than any social network friends filtering system before it.
One of Google+’s more unique features, and one that’s been a big hit with beta testers so far, has been Hangouts. Hangouts allow users to simultaneously video chat with up to 10 people at a time, but there is more to Hangouts than meets the eye.
Once created, “Hangouts” pop up on friends’ news streams, and are available to join at any time to share YouTube videos or have a group chat. Although at the moment you can only use these two functions, I can envisage many more group features being added over the coming months and years.
For group collaboration projects, Hangouts could be really big. Imagine creating Circles for your clients and work colleagues, allowing you to share videos together, enabling you to collaborate on a project in real time with text, pictures, video and chat, no matter where the different parties are (and without having to pay for an expensive video conferencing service.)
Building on what Google Wave started in may 2009, Hangouts could be a massive shift in the way we talk, share and collaborate with our friends, family and work colleagues.
RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) may have been the first mobile group messaging service, but with apps such as WhatsApp, and more recently the announcement that iOS 5 will have it’s own group message service in the form of iMessage, group messaging is becoming a mainstream addition to our mobile phones.
Google+ is no different, and included within the Google+ Android app and the forthcoming iOS version, is Huddles, a group messaging service for Google+ users.
User can chat (and in the future, share pictures and video) with friends from any of their Circles. This means you can have different chats with pre-set individuals or groups, based on your Circles, making the process of talking to the right people at the right time a whole lot easier. What makes this different with BBM and iMessage is the link between the web platform and the mobile application. Although Huddles aren’t available on the web, the same Circles, the same friends, and the same conversations (although not the same specific message thread at the moment) can carry on when you access the website, ensuring it’s not a mobile-only experience.
It looks lovely
The first thing that hits you when you use Google+ is the distinctive look. Minimalistic, yet delivering a lot of information, the Google+ UI is attractive, and informative. If it seems strangely familiar in terms of feel, that’s probably because it was built by Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original designers of the Apple Macintosh GUI.
Neat little touches like deleted Circles rolling away out of the screen, and little green +1’s popping up when you add a friend to Circle give Google+ character and charm, something Google Buzz and Google Wave both suffered with a lack of. Ultimately though, the UI is clean, clear and intuitive. These are things we all struggle to get to grips with when Facebook has a new facelift, but Google+ seems to have got it right from the off
Great Google integration
It’s pretty obvious that Google+ would integrate well with other Google services, but it’s the way that Google has been extended with the addition of Google+ that has impressed.
Google itself, along with Google Docs, Google Mail and Google Calendar all feature the Google+ notification menu, enabling users to see who’s commented on their pictures, +1’d their status, or just generally interacted with them on Google+. This makes every Google page into a social experience that doesn’t require you you to be on Google+ to be a part of. YouTube’s Google+ integration can’t be far behind now.
If you think Facebook has it’s claws in every part of the web thanks to its Like buttons, suddenly they only feel like one small part when every page you go on has Google+ notifications at the top.
Speaking of which, it would be rude not to mention how well the notifications work. When you get a notification, you get a red number in the top right-hand corner of the browser. Nothing drastically different from Facebook there, but what really sets Google+ notifications apart is that you can read and reply to what your friends and colleagues have said right from the notification tray.
This means you no longer have to click a notification only to be taken to a different page, to read what was said, and then reply. From the Google+ notification tray you can do all this, and carry on working, even if you’re still in Gmail or sorting out your busy calendar. Ultimately I think it’s these features that really set Google+ apart from Facebook, and if this is what we’re seeing from a beta stage, I can’t wait to see what else Google has up it’s sleeve.