Google+ one week in…

Like most people, hearing about Google+ last week caused me to immediately sign up to be invited to the Beta. Shortly after I was lucky enough to be sent an invite using a well known loophole, and took it upon myself to start shooting out invites to friends, colleagues and family members in an attempt to start filling my circles with fellow users.

After using G+ (yeah, I’m on that naming convention bandwagon) for a week, I thought I’d write up some thoughts on the service now I’ve had some time for it to settle down.

Stream

The week has seen some noticeable trends. Initially it was inevitable that all posts seemed to be either simple test items, invite attempts, or the inevitable pictures of cats whilst people tried to find their feet.

At present my stream now seems a bit uncluttered – it’s a mix of useful (G+ tips, recipes, articles), people using it like other social networks (reposting tweets already posted elsewhere etc), using it for posing questions (a bit like Quora), and those who have just joined and are back in the test phase. There’s clearly a split in how people are using the service, and it comes across that it will take a bit more time for people to find consensus on how it should be used.

I myself haven’t posted anything publically yet. I think that like many others I’m trying to work out how G+ fits in with my overall online ecosystem – I have Facebook for more personal things, twitter for the more everyday, reactive communication, linkedin for professional networking, and I’m not sure which ‘persona’ fits G+ best. Is G+ trying to be all of these? Will it work, or will it end up with its own completely distinct personality?

Sparks

I like this idea. I am at my core a very lazy person, and I like nothing better than being spoonfed things of interest to wrap my brain around. Google, of course, are very well qualified in the whole arena of surfacing relevant content based on keywords, so I have very high hopes for this. It’s not the finished article yet, and it will be intesting to see how the whole +1 concept plays into it long-term.

I’m currently using this both for personal and professional reasons – I’ve populated my Sparks list with a wide range of ‘interests’ in order to see how well the concept works in different arenas, so these span things like “content management”, “sitecore”, “coldfusion”, “mobile”, “android”… all the way to “colchester”, “jakarta”, “tokyo” and others. I’m still looking for an effective term for vinyl toy figures, so if anyone has any suggestions please let me know!

Photos

Photos from your circles

In all honesty this hasn’t grabbed me as much as it hopefully will eventually. I like the concept, but since my photo stream is currently full of my contacts’ profile pictures it’s not really the life-commentary-in-pictures that I hope it will be. I was a big fan of Moblog some time ago, and I could see this eventually being a more personalised version of that.

Photos from my phone

This clearly still has a few issues – on loading it up a few days ago it had one photo from before I had G+, one after I’d signed up and had enabled instant upload, but not one that I took and shared in a stream as a test and which had previously shown up. I have since used the tool to import all photos from my phone, which seemed to work quite well, however it still has not synced a photo I took as a test after this task had completed. I’d be interested to know others’ experiences with this.

I’d love it if this could be made more reliable, as I think this is a fantastic feature – firstly I rarely back up my photos, and they tend to just sit in my phone. This will hopefully prompt me to do something with them. I also frequently use my phone camera as a reminder (I understand this contradicts my previous point!), so if there was a way of tagging photos/or turning this into more of a productivity tool that would be great.

Huddle

I was intrigued when a new icon popped up on my phone one afternoon, and it turned out I’d been included in a huddle. It seemed to work quite well at the time, though subsequent attempts have seemed to include long delays between messages being sent and received – I guess everyone else is messing around with it! If it works (and can be rolled out to a variety of mobile platforms), this has the potential to be VERY useful. It wil also be interesting to see how it impacts on services such as WhatsApp.

Video chat

Whilst not something I would use day to day (‘proper’ services like Webex, GoToMeeting and Connect will still likely be my business tools of choice until this matures significantly), I can still see this being fun for families around the world, or with friends who want to group chat. Where I used to come home from school and immediately spent all evening on AOL chat (I know) with my friends, services like this can now port entire friendship groups onto new services. Facebook’s recently announced Skype offering has been seen as a retaliation to Hangouts, but it presently only facilitates on to one video calls. This one isn’t over yet…

Circles

After adding everyone I knew of in some capacity, my Find and Invite tab has now become somewhat counter productive as I can’t find anyone new that I actually know. I have a lot of Twitter contacts in my circles, and the suggestions now seem to be a lot of people who I have no connection with whatever. It know the whole idea of circles is that the names are private, but it would be good to have a way of tagging people – John Smith is in X, Y, Z’s circles, and has been tagged with ‘funny’, ‘cats’, ‘tunbridge wells’ – a bit like Twitter’s groups I guess.

I really like the visual element of Circles as well as the simplicity of the privacy mechanism. I’m sure some loopholes will happen, but for now this seems like a really nice way to organise people. The subtle animations (try deleting a circle) are also very cool little touches.

Final thoughts

As has been pointed out in several arenas, the non-geek community uptake will be key to establishing G+’s overall success. At present I have 15 family and friends in circles compared to 65 professional or community contacts, which seems to be pretty similar to most at the moment. A lot of people just don’t seem to ‘get’ G+ and why they should use it over Twitter/Facebook, so it seems that Google needs to come up with a clever marketing strategy for the masses.

I know I’ve pointed out a fair few flaws in this review, but my overall feeling is one of excitement. There’s an awful lot to like about Google+, and I’m looking forward to its evolution. Let’s not forget – this is a still a Beta, despite our high hopes!

In addition to the recommendations I’ve already suggested, some other changes I’d like to see would be:

Sparks – remove the featured recommendations and create a landing page featuring the user’s selections.

Create more of a dashboard – instead of mimicking Facebook’s landing page I’d prefer to see more of a Google homepage complete with customisable widgets. This would personally help me make better use of Sparks, and would be great if I could tag my Instant Uploads to be flagged up on the homepage.

Profile > Places lived – I like this, but it should have the ability to be made bigger, or perhaps to involve a more complex Google Maps integration should people wish to map more information.