I’ve been on Google+ for half a day or so, so here’s my take on it so far. I’ve reflected on the key features Google announced the other day, plus detailed (quite!) a bit more I’ve discovered on my explorations.
SIDENOTE: Before I talk about functionality further, please indulge a little gripe I have with Google+ a moment: why can’t I use Google Apps account for Google+?! I mean come on, I thought the whole new architecture for Google Apps rolled out late last year was supposed to sort this kind of shit out?!
Anyway, moving on…
While Google didn’t mention it for obvious reasons, the stream is a crucial part of the Google+ infrastructure. Basically it’s much like Facebook’s News Feed. UPDATE 15 July 2011 9.05 PM
(Presumably once the platform is post-field trial) The Stream is the first thing you see when you log into Google+ (web interface anyway). It aggregates together all the posts that you are privy too (ie all the posts by your friends that are either public or limited to the members of a circle that user has you in). The interaction with content is similar to Facebook. You can +1 any post, you can comment on it or you can share it to your circles.
Also, you can click on any of your circles on the left navigation column to show posts from members of that circle only. On the right you can see the members of the circle, add new people to it or start a hangout that members of the circle can attend.
Of course, the stream is also where you post updates. Above the stream of content from your circles is an input field. Status updates can be text-only or they can be text posts that include:
- a link to a website;
- a photo or photo album;
- a video or video album; or
- a check-in to a location.
More on how each of these types of posts interact with other features below.
Accompanying the launch of Google+, Google also announced the roll out of the ‘grey bar’ along the top of major Google services. The new services navigation bar is more than just a cosmetic change. It has been rolled out so that once a user has signed up to Google+ (and they are signed into their Google account) they can interact with the new service directly from the nav bar. Through drop-down frames you can post a status update (any of the types listed above), see new Google+ notifications or jump straight to your circles and other key account features (by click on your username or your avatar thumbnail).
While the Google+ interaction on the grey bar is only available on some services at the moment, it’s pretty likely this will eventually be available across all Google services. Right now you’ll find it at the top of Google+, Gmail, Picasa Web Albums and Google Docs. Although any service that has the grey bar but doesn’t include Google+ notification will still give you the ability to jump straight to key account features by clicking on your username.
UPDATE 10 July 2011 1.05 PM
Seemingly set to replace Replacing the existing Google Profiles, presumably Google+ will be is now a Google user’s primary Google profile. The new profile includes information about you as well as your Google+ posts, photos, videos and +1s.
These new Google profiles are highly customisable. Users can opt to include information in a number of sections including a free-form biography and contract details as well as occupation and employment history, education qualifications, places they’ve lived and relationship status. At the current moment the only required information is the user’s name and gender.
Viewing permissions for each section on the profile can be managed separately, giving users the flexibility to, for example, make their bio and current occupation publicly viewable. They might also make their previous employment and education qualifications viewable by their extended circles while their contact details are only able to be seen by their circles.
This certainly is a good start, and provides much more flexibility in managing your online information than most other platforms, if Google wanted to lead the way on this it would be awesome to see every aspect of a field or entry in a section able to be separately managed. For example, it would be awesome to be able to grant different viewing permissions to different contact points. You might be happy for one of your email addresses to be public and for your work email to be viewable by your extended circles but want to restrict your mobile number to only one specific circle of close friends. Which brings me to my second wish-list in viewing permissions: it would also be awesome to be able to grant viewing permissions by circle rather than granting it to all your circles collectively.
In an attempt to address the failing of other social networks’ (especially Facebook!) contact management systems, circles is a move by Google to put that kind of management into the core infrastructure of a social network. Existing platforms have struggled to give users an easy and effective method of controlling who sees what on their profile. Circles makes doing that very easy on Google+.
The idea is simple: in the *real* world we think about people contextually but online it has been difficult to replicate these contexts. How do I easily get a socia network to recognised that ‘Emma is my best friend’, ‘Nic and Kylie and I work together’ and ‘I know Todd through Twitter, we have some friends and acquaintances in common but we’ve never actually met in person but one day I’d really like to get to know him better’. These often unarticulated contexts are how we actually think about the people around us. But social networking at this point clumps everyone together. Any any attempt to manage that is often complicated and not always successful (just dig into the privacy controls on Facebook if you don’t believe me! :p).
Essentially circles is a visual interface that allows you to drop and drag your Google+ contacts into groups (called circles). While Google+ has a few circles standard, you can name a circle pretty much anything you like. I’ve got one called, ‘we’re tight’, for all my really close friends, one called, ‘we work at @ccAustralia’ to help me share copyright-related stuff with work mates and one called, ‘you’re a bit of a douche bag, but you’re all right sometimes’ for people who are a bit of a douche bag, but they’re all right sometimes! :p
Click on any of your contacts in the contacts tab then click and hold and drag them to the circle you want them in. To move multiple people to a circle at the same time, click on Each contact you want to associate with a circle, then click and hold any one of them and drag the bundle of contacts to the circle. Contacts can be grouped in to multiple circles. When you hover over any circle up to 13 thumbnails appear (in a formation that looks like telephones when I was a kid!) around the circle. If you hover your cursor over a thumbnail the contact’s name pops up. Also when you hover over a circle all of the contacts in the contacts tab that are not in that circle are dimmed so you can quickly see who is in the circle.
A circle manager tool pops up when you click on a circle. Here you can rename the circle, add or remove people or delete the entire circle. You can also view the circle’s stream (ie posts by circle members). You can also limit the contacts tab to display only those contacts in the circle.
I like circles. I really, really like circles in fact. As someone with 1000s of contacts on Google Contacts in my Gmail and 1000s of friends of Facebook, managing that kind of database is really, really arduous. Once I tried to create lists for my entire Facebook and over two months I only got up to ‘i’ in my friends list. I hope that over time circles will interact with Google Contacts so that my Gmail contact groups will reflect my circles and vice-versa. If that happens I can totally foresee circles becoming my primary way of managing my contacts!
I guess sparks is designed for people who don’t rely on RSS feeds to aggregate their information sources. Basically you enter a keyword and the system returns results from a number of news sites and blogs on the topic. Each result includes the headline or title, the source and when it was published and four lines of the article.
I really feel sparks is half-baked. I think the concept and the functionality both need more work. I have a number of gripes and suggestions on this. You should be able to view the list of possible sources Google is drawing from and manage that yourself. If there’s a news provider, magazine or blog you really hate you should be able to hide it. Likewise you should be able to add new sources based on a feed URL to any spark.
Sparks should also integrate with Google Reader. Automatically all of my feeds should be included as sources and my sparks should mimic my folders and/or bundles on Reader. Imagine how awesome it would be to have a visual feed manager similar to the circles infrastructure to help you manage your feeds!
In short hangouts is video conferencing facility that supports multiple webcams simultaneously. The new talk gadget for Google Talk shows each attendee’s webcam. The person talking (or talking the loudest) is featured on top of the stack. The featured broadcast changes based on who is talking. The service also allows users to share content simultaneously so you can all watch the same YouTube video at exactly the same time.
While Google anticipates users using hangout to do online what they do offline I just don’t see this kind of thing happening on a mass scale. Skype chats or video conferences tend to be a structured thing. We arrange a time with the other attendee/s so we’re all online at the same time. When we want to just hang out it’s often not that planned or structured.
Exactly as I suspected, when you check-in on Google+ integrates with Google’s other geospatial services (online and mobile). Possible check-in venues are queried against the Google Places database and plotted on Google Maps. A successful check-in also updates a users Google Latitude as well.
Check-ins seem to still be a bit buggy. For example, while some check-in venues are working fine (such as Brother Espresso), when I check-in at Creative Commons Australia the main part of the post links to the ccAustralia Google Places entry correctly, but the address line links to a Google Maps location in Congo! I’m sure Google will get that sorted out though.
By default the ‘Photos from your circles’ category is displayed when you go to the photos section. Each photo identifies who uploaded it and in what album they posted it. There is a section for your own photos and albums and a gallery of photos that other people have tagged you in. Photos and videos are presented as a mosaic of thumbnails similar to the recent change to Google Images search results.
You can upload photos and videos using the upload button on the right in the photos section. You can add files from your computer, from your mobile devices or take them using your mobile device. All your photos and videos and albums on Google+ mimicked in your Picasa Web Albums and vice-versa.
As part of a status update, photos and videos can be attached either by uploading a single files. Albums can be created by uploading multiple files. You can also attach both photos and videos that were uploaded to your Instant Upload private folder in your albums (more on that below) by using the ‘From your phone’ option.
As I said before, instant upload is pretty self explanatory. If instant upload is turned on on your Android device then photos and videos you take with your device will be uploaded in the background to your ‘From my phone’ album on Google+. The ‘From my phone’ is a private folder. When creating a photo or video status update you can attached your instant upload content using the ‘From your phone’ option. UPDATE 19 July 2011 2.07 PM
I haven’t done it yet, but I would assume this moves or copies the content from your ‘From my phone’ private folder into a public folder in your Photos albums.
After content has been uploaded via instant upload Google+ has really cute feature. The next time you log into the web interface it prompts you to share recent content from your phone with a little tab that has the number of unpublished photos and videos and a little thumbnail of each. It also brings up thumbnails and a reminder to share your unpublished instant uploads on the right column in your Photos section.
I’m not going to lie to you, at this stage I haven’t even used huddle. Might try to round up a few testers to chat to with it soonish.
♺ Vic Gundotra, ‘Introducing the Google+ project: Real-life sharing, rethought for the web,’ 28 July 2011, The Official Google Blog. ★ Google+ learn more and Google+ help centre, Google Inc. ♥ Photo: Adaptation (crop and resize) of ‘Retro Corporate Logo Goodness_00021‘ by Jordan Lloyd, Creative Commons BY 2.0.