Thursday, July 7, 2011

Google+ Impressions

Between moving and packing and unpacking and starting a new Real Life job, I'm afraid my presence around these parts will be sporadic at best this month. I'll still try to make something happen up here on Thursdays, though.

Today: a loose collection of off-the-cuff thoughts on Google+, Google's newest stab at the whole social networking thing.

The Good:

  • My very, very first impression of Google+ was that this is sort of what Facebook was like back when it started - streamlined, uncluttered and filled mostly with people I know and the people they know. Where Facebook has become a den of aunts and People You Knew From High School, Google+ still has that exclusive-new-thing vibe that so many people like. I mean, part of that is probably because of its semi-closed beta status, but still...
  • Google's minimalist interface is hit-or-miss depending on the product: it works for Gmail, where a long list of chronologically-sorted items makes the most sense, but it works less well for Google Docs or Google Buzz, which dump a bunch of information on you stream-of-consciousness-style with too few effective ways to sort it. In Google+, the simplicity and the open white space on the pages work mostly in the service's favor.
  • Google+'s "circles" give you convenient ways to group your friends and control what they can and can't see, getting over that age-old social networking bugaboo of staying connected with both personal and professional contacts using the same profile. Many of the other privacy controls in Google+ exist in Facebook, but are often obfuscated.
  • Integration with other Google services makes it easy to bring in media and find people, depending on how deeply you (and they) are invested in Google services.
The bad:
  • Social networking sites thrive on interpersonal interactions, and frankly there just aren't that many people on Google+ to interact with (though the few who are are generally pretty active users). It's early days yet, but Google will need to capitalize quickly on its early, um, buzz to build and maintain a userbase.
  • While finding people and associating Google-hosted pictures and videos is pretty easy if you and your friends use Google stuff all the time, there's no automated way to pull in media and information from the other social networking sites that you're almost assuredly using already. If the point here is to chip away at Facebook's dominance (and that's got to be at least part of it), you need to make it as easy as possible for Facebook users to make the jump.
  • Don't fool yourself: Big companies don't care about your feelings. Google may not be as openly apathetic about user privacy as is Facebook, but the company is collecting information from and about you all the time. Their "don't be evil" mantra is famous and oft-repeated, but they're a huge company built mostly on advertising revenues, and in pursuing those revenues they're bound to be at least a little evil, inadvertently or otherwise. To those of you looking to flee Facebook in exchange for better privacy, Google+ may scratch that itch, but only to a point.