Opinion: After the first frisson of excitement, Google’s newest social networking venture Google+ feels a tad under-baked.
The three-column layout is similar to that of Facebook. Users can post short, instant messages in the Twitter style; or, longer ones with video, pictures, links and more.
Google Buzz – which was too chaotic to use sensibly – sits in the background. This gives Google+ a tinge of promiscuity by hooking you up with just about anyone who has emailed you at Gmail.
Google+ combines other standalone features such as GChat, the Picasa photo sharing service and Google Voice (sadly, only for US users).
Still, the beta service seems to lack integration with other Google services that should otherwise be a no-brainer, including Gmail, Reader, Docs, Apps, and Calendar. At this stage, you don’t even get notifications in Google+ when new emails arrive, nor can you easily recommend webpages to your Google+ 'Circles'.
Another thing conspicuously missing from the first release of Google+ is an Application Programming Interface or API. This is a must for Google+ to succeed, and developers everywhere are already loudly clamouring for one.
Perhaps Google is waiting for users to demand such integration. It will be interesting to see how Google pulls together its various offerings – and if such a broad Internet land grab will be permitted by regulators in various jurisdictions.
The EU is already concerned about Google owning the search market. If it succeeds with Google+ to the point that rivals are squeezed out, there may be an anticompetitive practices investigation either in Europe or the US.
So what is the commercial model for Google+? It is the search giant’s shot across the bows for Facebook and Twitter, and a cock-a-snook at Microsoft which will now have to think of something similar for Windows Mango Phone Service Pack 1.
The targeted advertising possibilities are legion, interesting and scary in equal measure, but so are potential privacy and spamming abuses.
Hanging out in Circles
I've used Google+ for almost a day; many existing friends and contacts are also trying it out. It feels very spartan compared to Facebook and while the notification emails don't bother me much at the moment, I wonder what Google+ would be like if I had 5,000 followers like I do on Twitter.
Google+ streams updates and content into different categories such as Friends, Family, Acquaintances and whatever you feel like calling them. Aptly called Circles, this is an easy way to build limits around what you share and sift through an ever-increasing amount of social media information.
For those reasons, Circles may also help sway those who rightfully think that they need another social media service as much as a hole in their heads.
Any killer apps?
What’s the stand-out thing about Google+ then? A browser-based video conferencing feature called Hangout, according to Glenn Williams who runs the Auckland Radio Wammo talkback show.
“With Hangout, I can do multi person video conferencing in a way I couldn’t with Skype, due to platform incompatibilities. It’s a Skype killer in some ways,” he said, adding that he will incorporate Google+ on his show as soon as possible.
For the record, my interview with Williams took place over Google+ Hangout. Video quality was average even over fast broadband, but the sound didn’t lag. Overall, Hangout worked as advertised.
Android users haven’t been forgotten with Google+. The Android client lets you instantly share photos and comment on them while on the hoof and it ties up with Google’s Picasa service.
Geo-location is supported in the first revision of the Android client and it’ll be interesting to see where Google will take that in terms of commercialisation.
The Huddle group messaging service that lets you broadcast to select circles is potentially excellent for keeping in touch with people, or dangerous if you’re not careful with whom you include in the recipients.
Google will need to be vigilant here if it wants Google+ to succeed and not to become another unfinished project like Wave and Buzz.
What's your take on Google +?