For anyone living under a rock for the past week, Google has released a new service: Google Plus. I’m no stranger to the new Google services. I got into the betas for Google Voice and the now failed Google Wave, but this new project of theirs trumps both of these combined. Google Plus is Google’s take on a modern social networking site.
Now, this isn’t their first time in the social networking scene. I’d bet that most people have never heard of Orkut, which was launched in 2004. It was meant to compete with Friendster and Myspace, but never took off outside of Brazil and India. Even now, 7 years later, popularity in Orkut is slowing as other sites like Facebook become more popular.
I first found out about the site one day after launch on June 29th. 10 hours later, I had an invite and went to town exploring the features and seeing just what Plus was all about. What you can first see is that the layout and organization is very similar to Facebook. It has a stream of news from what your friends are doing, profiles, pictures, video, but the features don’t stop there. In a way, G+ is an aggregation of many existing Google services. Picassa, Buzz, Chat, and Google Profiles are already tied in. Mail, Calendar, and Maps have also been redesigned over the past few days suggesting even further integration in the future.
Aside from utilizing existing services, Google Plus has some of it’s very own. Circles are the first thing I came to. I know that Facebook has a similar feature in that you can group your friends and give these groups access to different parts of your profile, but Google revolutionizes it. You can create several circles, and share information selectively among them. The only feature I’d like to see added here is circle nesting. Hangouts are also very clever and creative. While we may be familiar with social network chat features, Google adds video chat in the form of hangouts. No need to schedule a skype chat with your buddies, you can instantly video chat with all of your friends whenever you want. Lastly, Sparks seem interesting but a bit out of place. The main idea behind it is getting articles and information that you will like without any digging on your end, and being able to share that with friends. I can see this being a nice way to find information, but how do you know the quality of what you are getting?
Some of the more hidden features are nice as well. For example, Connected Accounts is a welcome feature as it allows linking of regularly used social media services. I can tie in my Facebook, Twitter, etc. Data Liberation is fantastic as I can download any and all of my information used on Plus. Also, you can delete and remove your account: a feature many people wish they could find on Facebook.
Though Google has closed invites for the time being, I’m hoping they open them again for more of a production environment . Very few people I know were lucky enough to get in when the window was open, and I’d really like to see the site when more of my friends are using it with me. I’m still getting to know all of the features and options, but I can say that I’m impressed, and I feel that this is only the start so something big.