Unless you have been living under a rock this week you will be aware that Google has just soft launched Google+ (Google Plus) AKA Google Circles and that this is A Big Deal.
I was invited to the beta party and, having spent a fair bit of time playing with it, I feel somewhat, well, underwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-made platform with a nice interface and good features, thanks presumably to famed Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld, so all good.
It’s obviously a mere sliver of what’s to come as they have already changed Google Search to come into alignment and a massive rebranding exercise is evidently in hand, with Steven Levy confirming that Google’s Emerald Sea Project has a scheduled 100+ social feature launches planned, so that’s potentially huge and exciting. And they are obviously way more serious and committed to this than they were to Buzz, but… but… but… lots of things are simply annoying.
For starters, why call it Google+ (Plus) when they already have Google+1?
It’s hardly catchy, and it’s very confusing, so much so that people are calling it Google Circles as often as they say GooglePlus, and that’s never good when you have just launched a product regardless of where you eventually want to take it or what you want to do with it.
I know not many people are using it yet and few of us have proper friends to add to the Friends Circle, but still, sharing publically seems to be the norm for everyone and goodness knows how that will end up in the future as I really can’t imagine most people will post stuff ONLY to Friends or Acquaintances or Following.
Facebook have had no end of trouble getting most users to do it with groups, so despite Google integrating filtering more seamlessly and forcing you to place each new contact in a Circle, I still think people will resort to default and just post stuff – especially if they are doing so via mobile, which they will, because it’s just too darn fiddly.
It’s all a bit kind of Asperger’s really, with its demand that you immediately file people in boxes or circles or whatever Google would like them filed under. People by their very nature are random and individual and relationships change and evolve, sometimes in the same sentence.
Some of my Facebook friends can be in three, or even four, of my groups, which defeats the purpose really, and I can’t imagine Google Plus/Circles/Thingy will force me to categorise those same people differently. And I can’t see most people wanting to categorise their contacts at all.
It’s not neat, but it’s how life is.
It also annoyed me that you can easily add Picasa pictures but not Flickr pictures, and that posts specifically addressed to me aren’t highlighted in some way so they stand out from the General Babble.
The General Babble is another irritation in the same way as it was with Buzz, because you can’t choose what comments you see, zip up the comments or choose ‘Most Recent’ or ‘Top News’ a la Facebook, though you can mute posts and hide people in your stream.
Although that obviously carries other problems if you are actually interested in what the person has to say, just don’t want a whole stream of comments cluttering up your feed and email.
Hopefully they’ll sort it out soon, but in the meantime I found myself wondering with increasing frequency if the Google geeks who designed it actually use social media regularly, because it really is incredibly well, geeky. Which I quite like (Robert Scoble LOVES it), but it has a huge way to go before it fulfils Googles’ vision as an all encompassing platform for everyone.
I do like the slight irreverence that they’ve introduced – a box called ‘Bragging Rights’ made me smile on the profile. Although is it just me or is the box really narrow and fiddly and almost impossible to fill out and edit? Or maybe I just have way too much to brag about?
Unfortunately this irreverence tends to fall right over the edge elsewhere, and I have already developed a rash-inducing aversion to many of the Names of Things.
This includes my favourite function, the Skype-like ‘Hangout’ or, to use their non-verb, ‘Start a Hangout’ (I keep reading ‘Start a Hangover’), to which it seems you can’t just add your contacts by name or via drag and drop, strangely, but have to do so via their emails.
However, on the Plus (that’s Google Plus to you…) side the Hangout is genuinely very cool and in fact you probably could Start a Hangover when using the simultaneous YouTube function with your mates – see a video preview on our home page.
I also quite like the Sparks function (though not the name – blah), where you can add links on topics you choose, filter for news or research or presumably just go browsing, just like in the good old ‘Google It’ days.
On the downside it’s very clonky and needs a fair bit of fine tuning, but it’s obviously got potential as a useful news channel and given the weight of Google behind it there’s obviously a huge amount of mileage to be had and extras to be added.
Which when you think of the Google Empire makes perfect sense and it is clear that Google+ has been designed with both eyes (and hands) firmly on the prospective advertising and marketing revenue that such filtering will create, as the vast expanse of white space all ready and waiting for the advertisers to move in to testifies.
It’s just a shame they haven’t designed it with the average user in mind, because the biggest irritation at the moment is that it just isn’t very social. And by that I mean that you can’t automatically hook up with your existing contacts in anything other than Hotmail or Yahoo, which I don’t use anymore (Hotmail) or would ever want to use except when forced at knifepoint for login purposes (Yahoo). Or easily find anyone, even if they are on Gmail and you know that.
And what that most reminds me of is Twitter in the very early days, when there was something like 50 of us in the UK, the interface was blank and confusing, and you just wandered around bumping into people you didn’t really know.
Which is not to say it’s all bad – *waves* to @AModernMother and @BlondbyDesign, fellow fugitives from The Twitter Dark Ages – and look how Twitter grew up and developed from being a Geek Platform to the world’s newsfeed of choice.
It’s just that was Way Back Then and This Is Now, and so Bloody Ridiculous Deeply Irritating Quite Confusing when everything else has moved on and it’s so easy to share, find and import contacts and be social regardless of which platform you’re using. Yet Google insists on silos for goodness sake, “share only what we think you use, not what you actually use”. Do it our way. No sharing with any other common network.
What’s the first social media network rule of thumb, peeps? Oh yes. That it’s social…
Google+ isn’t really a social media network as such, more a network for Geeks by Geeks and it’s going to take a huge amount of effort to turn it into a much-loved social media network to rival Facebook and Twitter.
Luckily – or unluckily depending on your standpoint – Google has those resources in bucketloads. However, as they have already found, having the will is not enough unless you can also find a way of making it attractive, nay downright irresistible, for ordinary peeps because it really is best to give people what they want if you want a product be a commercial success.
Since I don’t think Google+ is anywhere near that yet, it will require every trick Google can throw at it to make it stick. And suddenly the huge brand refresh and tie in with Google Search et al seems less the work of opportunity and more the action of a company that knows it needs to do something radical.
Whether they will succeed in making it into a much-loved part of everyday life or whether it will remain GeekNet and the playground of choice for the few and only ever used grudgingly by the the rest of the world because Google makes them, now That is The Question.
And I think the jury is still out.