Pat Cutty, Columnist
Google is a company with a great number of successes—like its famous search and advertising services as well as things like Chrome, Gmail, Android and Google Apps—and a smaller but still notable number of failures (Gears, Wave, etc).
When I first heard about Google+, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been an early adopter of Google Wave. For those of you who remember, Google Wave was supposed to revolutionize how we do email and collaborate on the internet. It was hyped a lot at its release, and those few that found a use for it absolutely loved it, but most people scratched their heads, and Wave died.
However, Google is a company that is very good at learning from its mistakes, as well as mistakes of its competitors. Now we have Google+, living proof of this. It was released as an invite-only beta, which made a good number of people very interested. At press time, however, it still is considered a beta product. For those who don’t know what beta means, it is essentially a somewhat unpolished state in which bugs are still being worked out and features are still being tweaked. Keep this in mind.
I was quite surprised at the level of quality for a so-called beta product. It also integrates very nicely with other Google services I use, such as Gmail, Docs, Voice and Chat.
Some have said that G+ looks a lot like Facebook, and that is not an unfair assessment. (For instance, a “Like “on Facebook is reflected on Google+ as a “+1”.) However, it has learned from Facebook’s mistakes. It is much simpler, and gives you more control over pretty much every facet of the experience. Also, things just work better. For instance, compare the chat functions in the two. Google integrated its pre-existing chat and VOIP services into the product, so the experience is far better than Facebook’s in that regard.
Google+ also offers “Hangouts,” a sort of free group video chat. Having tested it a few times, I found it to be as good as or better than Skype and Oovoo. Chatting with my friends in Michigan and California only had minimal lag, though I did have to play with the sound drivers on one of my computers a bit to correct a delay issue.
The photo applet is a lot like Facebook’s, except that it adds a few interesting components. For instance, one can do some minor editing on a photo (basically some very basic brightness, contrast and hue settings). I also found it a lot easier to organize my photos and videos.
However, the defining component of Google+ has to be its contact-management system, called “Circles.” This feature is the best example of how Google+ learned from Facebook’s errors. Facebook has long had the ability to sort people into “lists,” but until very recently these lists were virtually inaccessible, had almost no visibility and were only minimally useful for anything but controlling who could see you online in chat. Even now, the functionality pales in comparison to Circles.
Dividing friends and acquaintances into Circles is both easy and useful. A single status post can be limited to specific circles, and a Circle can also be used to start a video-chat “Hangout.” Basically all facets of what Circle members can see may be customized, including statuses, photos, comments and more. It also lets you customize, with one click, which circles you see on your homepage stream. And unlike Facebook, organizing Circles is fantastically easy. Google certainly learned from Facebook’s past privacy blunders, as well as its own.
Additionally, Google is reputed to be enforcing a strong policy against fake accounts. While celebrity spoofs and people with interesting nicknames may dislike that, it helps Google sidestep a major mistake made by MySpace and Facebook which resulted in tons of fake spam-spewing profiles and apps wreaking all sorts of havoc.
Google+ is to Facebook as Facebook was to MySpace three or four years ago. It learned from the mistakes of its competitor, and built up a huge user base in a very short period of time. Google+ is almost like a Facebook that doesn’t piss me off. It took the basic idea behind Facebook, trimmed off the fat, and then added cool and unique features of its own.
Will it be the Facebook-killer? That remains to be seen. But remember why people moved from MySpace to Facebook in the first place: Facebook at the time offered a fast, simple competitor to a MySpace that was loading up on bells and whistles that nobody wanted or needed. MySpace eventually became so bloated that it began to render itself unusable by all but the most patient of souls. Now, Facebook is the one adding features and things that a lot of users hate; merging the IM and private messaging, the constant layout redesigns, and that stupid chat sidebar are great examples.
Google has a lot of work to do if it wants to ape Facebook, which is still hitting record-high profits. However, I do think it has a fighting chance. It is a solid piece of software that is definitely worth a test drive, and