Somewhere between Quebec City and Edmundston I got an e-mail from Google's PR rep inviting me to try the company's new social networking tool. Like most e-mails received on vacation, I ignored it for a few hours. While I always anticipated the search engine giant had something fabulous in the works to rival Facebook, I felt no urgency to log in (figuring it would take some time for Google+ to catch on).
Much to my surprise, the next morning my in-box was inundated with Google+ notifications. I had been included in posts, added to circles, and apparently I was not replying quickly enough. After playing with the social platform for the better part of the past week I have to admit that I like what I see. If you're an avid Google services user like I am, it's a natural fit to include a Facebook-like tool as part of the mix.
Here are a few things I +1 (ok, I mean, I like) about Google+ and a couple of things that aren't sitting pretty with me just yet.
1. A fluid user experience
After a decade or so playing in online communities, I think this overall experience is probably one of the best I've ever seen. Google+ makes it easy to jump right in and start sharing. Want to update your profile? It's a cinch to edit everything from your employment history to your relationship status in one spot. Want to chat with people on Google+? It's all neatly within your sidebars. From a design perspective, it's very squeaky clean, making Facebook's interface look a little dated.
2. Perfect little circles
Google+ contacts live in circles. While it sounds a little cutesy, it's extremely functional. Right now my biggest circle is Friends. I also have a couple of people in my Family circle. If you want to create a new circle, categorizing group of people on Google+ such as work colleagues, you simply drag and drop each person's profile into the newly named circle. If you want to delete a circle, it bounces up and down and then literally rolls off the screen forever. What I love about circles is how it allows you to visually put people you know into distinct groups. While other social networks attempt to do this, Google+ has nailed it.
3. Sparks of interest
Although Google+ is very new, there is already a lot of content buried within. Just below your ongoing stream of content from your circles there is an option to create Sparks. This allows you to follow items of interest. For example, I'm now following conversations posted on Google+ about mobile marketing and social media. This quick filter helps me to get browse specific topics as quickly as possible.
4. Privacy made easy, mostly
Over the past couple of years there have been endless complaints about privacy settings within Facebook and beyond. One of the main criticism has been how some companies make it difficult to manage who sees what information. While it's still early for Google+, when you click on your profile image in the top nav bar there is a Privacy link that displays useful tips about how to protect what you're sharing. Even better, each time you post you get to choose what circle you're sharing information with (or if you want to make it public). There has been criticism about Google+ revealing that they plan to retire private profiles at the end of July. Unlike Facebook, which allows you to maintain a private account that won't show up in searches, Google+ will force you to keep some basic information, such as your name and gender, public.
5. A whole lot of noise
I'm only following about 50 or so people right now, but I'm still finding it hard to keep up with all the great content that everyone is sharing. Unlike Twitter, which forces a 140 character limit, Google+ posts and comments seem to go on forever. On my homepage right now I am seeing one post from a friend, with a description, and a few comments. This takes up a lot of screen space so I worry a little about how many updates I'm missing. Facebook's News Feed seems to make better use of space, but again it leads to a more cluttered look.