Science & Technology

A First Look at Google+

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

As was expected by many for the last few months, Google finally announced its massive social networking project Google+ (pronounced “Google Plus”) and opened it to a small group of people to test it. A couple of days after its release, the small group was given invites to send to whoever they liked, and while the invite period was closed a day after, a few writers on The Iron Warrior, including yours truly, were lucky enough to get a look at Google’s new social offering.

From the main page (here called “Home”), it is painfully clear that Google’s main target with Google+ is Facebook. Profile pages look very similar to how they are set up on Facebook, and the news feed (here called “Stream”) is similar in function. Updates from connections go under the Stream, and from Home, you can chat, start a hangout and read Sparks, all of which will be discussed in detail.

The biggest, yet simplest, difference between Facebook and Google+ are its “Circles.” Circles are a much easier system of managing friends than the lists from Facebook. In Circles, you can drag people into categories you invent yourself or predefined categories. Given the predefined categories, it’s clear that there’s a distinction between Facebook’s “friends” and the “connections” you make on Google+. The categories start out as Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following, putting a clear distinction between who you would like to share private details with, who you’re related to, who you have met but don’t know, and who you haven’t met but find interesting.

What these Circles let you do is publish content only to specific groups. When you choose to share content, Google+ asks you to specify which people can see your content. This is supposed to mirror real life, where you only tell specific people things you think they’ll find interesting. You can also specify emails to be put in your Circles, so content can be pushed to them as well, even if they don’t have a Google+ account.

On profiles, content is split between Posts, About, Photos, Videos, +1 and Buzz. Photos and Videos are fairly self explanatory. Posts are very similar to Facebook walls as well. The About page is like the Facebook info page, but there is more stuff you can specify and you can adjust all the security settings to different things individually. +1’s function very similarly to Facebook’s Likes  and can be found on Google’s search pages as well, except they put them all in one spot instead of mixing them into your posts. Finally, Buzz is the infamous Google product that accidentally started following and spouting more information than people had expected, and prompted Google to rethink its social strategy. It seems Buzz has now improved as it hasn’t posted anything I haven’t wanted it to yet. A photos tab is at the very top menu bar and it displays all your friends’ photos similarly to a Google Images gallery, which is pretty cool.

The last two features worth mentioning are Sparks and Hangouts. Sparks are essentially bookmarked news searches. You type in a term, such as “Waterloo,” and news that relates to cities named Waterloo and the university, (among other things containing the word “Waterloo”) will be saved as a topic search. The only issue is that unless the word is unique or dominant, such as “Nintendo,” the news don’t really relate to what you’re interested in. Hangouts is a much more interesting feature, allowing you to chat with, as far as I’ve seen, at least ten people simultaneously on video chat for free. While video chatting, callers can also text chat at the same time and watch YouTube videos together. While this sounds kind of simple and boring, it’s actually quite entertaining, and I could see it being used as a way to communicate with people in the future.

The whole presentation of Google+ is extremely slick. As one reporter noted, it looks so good it doesn’t even look like Google made it. It seems Google’s presentational overhaul is carrying over to its other sites as well. Google+ notifications are automatically enabled across all Google sites, so when someone posts something, you get a little red notification in the corner. This, along with the +YourNameHere (in my case, +Jacob) in the top left corner of every Google page, keeps you more connected to Google+ than you’d imagine. I was skeptical of how well it might catch on at first, but it’s more addictive than most people will expect and it’s incredibly smooth. This might be one of the biggest rivals Facebook has had to deal with in a long time, and it’s interesting to see if Google+ will pull many subscribers away from Facebook. Keep in mind, Google still has over a billion users of its services every day. That’s a lot of users that could turn into Google+ users. I strongly recommend anyone with an invite check it out, as you might find it more interesting than it originally seems.