Google+ Review

Just a quick review to cover Google +

Executive Summary: Look out Facebook, Google has polished the entire experience and added a few useful little additions of their own, integrated it really nicely into their current offerings, -and- they actually give a damn about user privacy.

Google+ is actually a cross between Twitter and Facebook. The idea is: you add someone to a circle, and you push out information to those circles. If they’ve also added you into a circle they’re likely to see it in their news feed (or stream as they’ve called it). Google uses the same algorithms as it’s search engine and priority inbox to work out what you want to see and what you don’t. But it’s also a bit like twitter, in that you can add someone to a circle without them adding you, and you’ll then see any updates that they push out the world.

If you add some ‘sparks’ or interests Google also goes out and finds things you might like and puts them in your news feed. I added Bitcoin, Anonymous and Deadmau5 and immediately found some cool things. If you’re using a social network chances are you’re taking a break, so showing you news and updates from your hobbies and interests is the perfect tie in. It’s very similar to facebook groups, but instead of one person controlling the updates it’s all automatically sourced from the internet.

It’s also great that you can now push information out very intuitively to just one or a few circles. You might want your friends and family to see a geolocation update (say you arrive at a cool city in Europe), but it’s not something acquintences or work colleagues might need to know. Then again, I kind of like seeing the idle updates of people I know from one area and seeing that we have other areas in common we didn’t know about. But if you want, you can push your updates, links, photos, location, etc out to as many groups as you want. The option is yours now and it’s so easy to control.

Hangouts are one of those ideas that were just waiting to happen. You setup a hangout and up to 10 people can video chat at the same time. You can see if someone is in a hangout from their profile and opt to join in which is really great integration. People in the hangout can also load up a youtube video for everyone to watch. I can’t help but think a linked in or enterprise version of this would kill a lot of business’ out there already. Or maybe Google+ will prove to be both personal and enterprise by virtue of the tight control over what you share and show to who?

The major thing that really annoys me and lot of other people about Facebook is how they change your default privacy settings in ways that 99% of people would disagree with. I still remember when for some reason they made everyone’s photos default to show all. For anyone that’s slightly privacy conscious (I’m not really, I had it to show all friends) they suddenly had to log in and change it back, even though it was set to show only a small number of people before the change. What the hell, Facebook? They’ve also done stupid crap like show people’s purchases on the sidebar (what about presents or even just personal hobbies, good thinking Facebook).

Google have had a really good record in the privacy and common sense arena, and it shows that this has carried over to Google+ with options like geotagging photos disabled by default, better control over who can tag you in photos and things like never showing anyone but you your circle names. I can just imagine if someone I don’t like adds me to one of their circles, if I put them into ‘assholes’ or ‘frenemies’ to keep an eye on them, somewhere down the line Facebook would change some setting and it would tell them. I’m trusting that with Google that will never be the case.

One thing I didn’t particularly like, although it’s more the fault of the users, ┬áis that the ‘nearby’ stream is still rubbish. I’ve always seen a lot of potential in the idea that either twitter, facebook or someone could gives you a birds eye view of the stuff happening around you. Google+ offers the nearby stream option as part of the Android app, but when I had a look it was spammed by some guy named Phillip Malone saying things like ‘picking up my wife’. Maybe it just needs more traffic, people are still working out the public posting thing, and then (hopefully) Google will be able to filter out the interesting bits for each individual person who checks there. It has a lot of potential, I really hope it pans out this time!

To summarise: I really like Google+. It’s really polished, well thought out and tightly integrated. For example your +1 votes appear in your profile, and your Google profile photo appears next to your +1 votes in Google searches (and you can change it so people can’t see what you +1).

It’s really great the Facebook are getting some competition. They’ve started stealing Google’s talent and Google have replied by innovating in Facebook’s territory. Looking forward to seeing what’s next from these two!

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