First impressions of Google Plus

What follows are some very early impressions of Google Plus, the latest of Google’s socially-oriented tools. After Orkut, Buzz and Wave, there have inevitably been a few “Here we go again” type comments, but Google+ does feel different.

Firstly, the interface isn’t the confusing wasteland of WTFness that was Wave. Secondly, people are talking about it and signing up, which is more than can be said of Buzz, or of Orkut outside Brazil and, I believe, India.

Just as we needed to learn a new vocabulary with Facebook (the wall, liking etc), so we have new terms here. There are some interesting new features: ‘sparks’ (subscribing to updates about key words you specify); ‘hangout’ (group video chat); and ‘circles’.

I find myself especally interested by ‘circles’, a way to let you classify your contacts by groups such as Family, Friends, Acquaintances and Following. Of course, human relationships are layered in multiplicity to say the least, and cannot simply be dropped into buckets. Nonetheless, this is a hell of an advance on Facebook’s naive attempt. After all, on Facebook I am ‘friends’ with my husband and ‘friends’ with people I met once at a conference — c’mon, people. Really?

(More nuanced comments, particularly on the circles facet, are here.)

Also, the timing ain’t bad. Concerns about Facebook, privacy and the transparency of FB privacy settings have never been higher. I find their privacy settings incomprehensible (and if I can’t deal with it, with a PhD in Computer Science, then there must be something wrong)… and of course it is oft-cited that the FB privacy policy is now longer than the US Constitution. (XKCD perhaps does the best job of capturing this feeling.)

I’m not saying I trust Google 100%, but I trust ’em more than Facebook.

Inevitably I’ve focused on my own priorities in this post — I have for a long time had mixed feelings about Facebook’s failure to address types of relationship, and about the privacy issues. (Also about the lack of access to my own data. I was delighted to see that G+ offer ‘data liberation’: if I choose to leave, I can take my images and other materials with me. Good!)

There’s plenty of stuff out there about the functionality and first impressions, but as an aside here’s an alternative take on whether Google are taking the right tack in the first place. The point made is that it’s the questions we ask, not ourselves as people, that are central to Google: that perhaps they should help us search the plethora of user-generated content online rather than focusing their energies on G+. A fair comment, but I’d be astounded if both of those items aren’t reasonably high up the Google priorities right now.

I’ve only been on there for a little over a day as yet, but so far, so interesting. Whatever’s happening with Diaspora?


20 responses to this post.

  1. It feels much cleaner than Facebook and I like that the apps feel more linked together, rather than like Facebook which feels like one huge noisy system.

    Time will tell if Google ‘spoils’ wave by allowing it to spam me with app requests.


  2. I wonder if people are just not aware of Facebook ‘lists’. There appears to be a lot of hype for Google+ ‘circles’ allowing you to push content to different groups of friends… yet I do this on Facebook already.


  3. Posted by James Snowdon on July 1, 2011 at 16:14

    This is a ‘here we go again’ comment. I’m sceptical. I think this is exactly the same hype that there was with wave. Facebook has been successful because everyone in the world can use it. In my experience google products are very good but only more technically inclined people actually use them – I know no one outside of academia or the technology industry with a gmail account for example.

    If there’s still a strong usage of google plus in a year I will eat my words, but I won’t say that I think it’s the next big thing until then.

    Also one of the things that ruined wave was that everybody was bored of it before they took out the ‘invitation only’ aspect…


    • I know what you mean about Google products being oriented to a more technical crowd… but the interface for Google+ does seem more intuitive, at least. There’re big questions here about the learning curve and also the critical mass aspect. I have a bunch of people on there already but that’s because I know techies and academics that want to explore such areas (and are more likely to share my concerns about privacy on Facebook). Whether it’ll take off in the mainstream is another matter entirely.

      Invites /seem/ to be unlimited at the moment. If you want one, drop me a line with a Gmail address and I can do that thing for ya!


    • Really? Several of my-mother’s-friends have moved onto gmail for their email, and they are well outside of academia/technology.


  4. Interesting commentary – I was holding back on exploring G+ precisely because FB is such a privacy trainwreck (and riddled with trivia). Thanks for that! Your comment about trusting G more than FB (even if only marginally) mirrors my own feeling exactly.

    I may try G+ after all. I tried FB solely because non-techie family members 6,000 miles away used it, but once I found what an ID theft risk it was (and still is) I tried to erase my account, and that was a small nightmare. I’m still not sure everything has been deleted even now, more than a year later.

    Since my wife and I have been ID theft victims more than once in the last decade (through no fault of our own), I’m especially sensitive to any online service that opens me to any risk of recurrence.


  5. Facebook already offers the same data liberation feature – go to Account -> My account -> Download your information.


    • Thanks for the heads-up. (I have now played with that function!) What with that and lists, I guess it’s worth noting FB /does/ provide some of this functionality available on G+, but it is… less obvious. Hm.

      For me, my main interest in G+ is in the T&Cs not being so horrific, and the emphasis on (not to mention usability of) aspects like circles.


      • The circles user experience and functionality certainly seems to be partially inspired by the thinking of a former UX guy there, Paul Adams (formerly of Dyson). He gave a talk and published a slideshow in 2010 on this topic: . More interestingly, he now works at Facebook.

        It’s clear everyone is thinking this way. I also think it’s important to note two things here:

        1) Google+ is not just the friendship/relationship stuff, but it is clear that they have created a good attempt at pulling social into their existing tools. Even away from the core products point of view (Huddle, Hangouts etc), some of the things they are doing are pushing the boundaries (the web app is pretty sweet). This is good, as Facebook has been pushing the boundaries in social and rethinking ‘traditional’ web communication for some time too (see ‘Messages’). Competition should be good for us as consumers.

        2) Privacy is by no means a solved problem. Facebook have form here – see their arrogance of opting-in almost everywhere when they release new features. They are getting better in this area, and I suspect the original behaviour is partially driven by a desire to get their features out (who will use the features if they are turned off by default?). The social privacy features in Google+ are certainly easier to find (fresh to the interface type of find), but the defaults are still awkward, and the management of these features is still not hugely intuitive.

        I ‘trust’ Google more in on this, for no other reason than I have been a user of their services for longer, and haven’t suffered any bad consequences. But Google have in the past failed so hard social understanding (remember the problems with Buzz sharing a user’s information with her violent ex-husband?), I’d find it hard to recommend them to anyone on this for a while.

        Ah lookit – that’s another blog post I’m going to have to write now. Dagnabbit.

  6. Hey, Cool post.I was fiddling with G+ yesterday aswell.Here’s my opinion


  7. Posted by Jo Symington on July 3, 2011 at 08:59

    I despise FB but some people depend on it for contact. You’d think picking up the phone was yesterdays technology!?!?! Yet everyone is walking around with an iPhone or some other techno gadget for ‘communication’. Speak people SPEAK! Ho-hum, my sole reason for FB is for contact, my information shared on it is tight, all my privacy settings are customised and I use those lists. G+ sounds interesting, will take a look (when not writing report) but not sure how many would follow! Thanks for the heads up on it.


    • That’s how I feel, too. I want to leave FB but it is /so convenient/, especially for stuff like events. Like you, I keep the privacy locked down, but I find it interestingly difficult not to share on there! Hum. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!


      • Events are only convenient if you are a Facebook member. Having only joined Facebook 1.5 years ago to reconnect with friends overseas (and nab floorspace for sleeping off of them whilst travelling), I lived through

        a) not being invited to important events since people thought I would have heard of it on Facebook
        b) getting a really crappy email with an awkward half ability to sorta see the event and sorta not

        That’s always stuck with me, so I’m loathe to use it to organise anything (I don’t want to force people into the FB walled garden). I’ve had a Google account for something like 7 years, so it’s tough for me to know how this feels to people without one of those (or even those *with* a Google account, but without a Google+ account). I’d be interested to know what their interaction via the service with friends is like.

  8. […] Copyright ‘n’ legal « First impressions of Google Plus […]


  9. […] days ago I posted some initial reactions to Google+. Today, I find myself a member of Diaspora! The community is still in alpha, let alone beta, so […]


  10. […] begins to try and address this with Circles (see my initial impressions), but I’m unconvinced Circles will scale. We have many, many people in our networks: aside […]


  11. […] begins to try and address this with Circles (see my initial impressions), but I’m unconvinced Circles will work. We have many, many people in our networks: aside […]


  12. […] talking about newish social networking platforms, where are we on Google Plus? I joined that back in July. For me, right now it feels to me rather the same as LinkedIn, with a hint of Google Wave: I only […]


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