Thursday, July 7, 2011

Google+, watch out Facebook and Twitter!

Have you received your Google+ invitation yet? Don't worry, most people haven't.  Google is keeping it that way with good reason

Google+ is another attempt at social networking by Google, aiming at both Facebook and Twitter. They started a while back with Google Buzz, but it received bad reviews and privacy backlash. The service was more of a Twitter imitation than a Facebook killer. Google Buzz only allows you to post short messages with links and people can follow you and you can follow other people, just like Twitter. I stop using Buzz after a few postings and just about everyone I know stops as well. It was like a new toy that gets old really quick.


How about Google+ will it share the same fate as Google Buzz or even worse, Google Wave? Only time will tell, but Google+ will most likely here be to stay and may even beat Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Google Buzz, Plus is launched only to a limited number of people. This allows them to have a more controlled feedback instead of a widespread backlash they had with Google Buzz. Plus takes security and privacy seriously and the team will make changes soon to address some concerns people already have. And unlike Google Wave, people will know what this is about and how to use it, because it is basically Facebook + Twitter! Up to this day I don't think anyone knows what Google Wave is, and those who thinks they do, ask them to explain it to you and just watch their silence or mumble.

Google+ Facebook Theme
So if Google+ is just like Facebook, what's the point? Well the concept of social networking is similar and even the interface is eerily similar. Someone actually made a theme to change the colours to make it look even more like Facebook. With Plus you can post your statuses and as always people can comment on them, you can also put links, images and location to the post. But there's no "friends", the concept of friends in Facebook that is. And you don't have to mutually agree on a friendship, such  as requesting a friendship and that person must either accept or rejects you! You just basically add a person to one of your circle and they will get notified. They will then have the option to add you to one of their circle or ingore it completely. This is similar to how Twitter works, you follow someone and they can follow you back or not, but you can still see what they post publicly and you can still mention them. But Google+'s big advantage is the "Circles".

Google+ Circles
So what are "Circles" and how does this make Google+ different and better? Think of circle like your circle of friends or even better, as silos. There's a reason why Google never use the word friends. They understand that not everyone you meet or you know are your friends. They can be your family, your colleague or just someone you just meet and if you're famous enough, your fans. Take this for example, I have party pictures and I want to share them with my friends. However, I don't want my family or even worse my boss to see them! So I only share it to my friends circle. But a picture of my dog, I want all my circles to see them! In fact, I want the world to see them! Yes, you can make a post and share pictures and make them "public". This is where Plus crossed the Facebook's boundary and into Twitter's. Just like the picture of my dog, you can make your post public and people outside of your circles can see them. This is great for celebrities and bloggers, I'm actually already following a few of them just like Twitter. You can make your own cicle, they are just like groups and you can drag and drop people to your circles. The interface is quite simple and dare I say, intuitive! I like to post lots of links and news about technology, but I understand not all my "friends" care about them. So I create a circle called "Geeky Friends" and when I post geeky things, I only post it to these people and I don't bombard other people with posts they don't care. Circles are not mutually exclusive, a person may be in more than one of your circles. For instance my "Geeky Friends" circle contains people from my friends, colleagues and family circles. Your Circles' information, such are their existance and contents are not made public so you can create "People I don't care" circle and they'll never know!

Google+ Hangouts
What else Google+ have to offer that the competitors don't? Lots of bloggers and journalist calls "Hangouts" as the killer app for Google+. Facebook just recently annouced their partnership with Skype to offer video calling on top of their chat and messaging. But Plus' hangouts takes this video calling concept to the next level. With any circle, you can start a "hangouts" and everyone in that circle is welcome to join in. Not only can you see everyone's video like a film strip at the bottom at all times, the person who's talking at the moment, will be shown in the bigger window at the top. It feels quite natural and I think it's best multiple video conferencing tool to date. I can see this used often with families and even professional business meetings. Google+ also have a mobile app. It's only for Android at the moment but, the iOS version is already submitted to Apple awaiting for approval. In many ways, the mobile app already surpases Facebook apps! Simple push notification has not been done well by Facebook, sometimes I get them in my iPhone and sometimes never, it's really a hit and miss. And on my Android, it's not even push! Google+ mobile app push notifications are almost instant and the level of control for the notifications is great. You can set which notifications you want to get emailed or push to your phone or not at all. But they are always available under the notification sections. Instead of "hangouts" the mobile version have "huddle", it's an instant messaging for your circles or to individuals. Very useful when you're on the go meeting up with these people or just as a group messenger, lookout BBM!
Google+ Huddle
It can't be all that great! What's bad about Google+? Since it's not public yet, I only have a few friends in my circle and I still have to go back to Facebook. It is also missing quite a few features to compete with Facebook and one that I found very useful, events. My social life is not always virtual and online on Facebook, I go out and actually meet these people in the flesh. I know, it's hard to believe, meeting people for real? This is not in Google+, but I'm pretty sure they are working on this and will probably integrate it with their calendar app as they did with Picassa and Google+'s Pictures. In fact they are going to re-brand Picassa to Google Pictures. Another missing big feature is games! Social and casual gaming is big in Facebook, I haven't played a single game and I ingored every invitation by my "friends", but I heard it's really huge and very addictive! However, somone found a hint that Google is working on games. This will require API also knows as Application Programming Interface, it's a fancy way of saying developers can connect their app to Google+ just like Facebook Connect. One app that I uses Facebook Connect is Flixter, I use this to flag a movie I'm interested in and my friends can see that I want to watch it. I don't have to ask, who want to watch "Midnight in Paris". I can already see who want to watch it and just can start planning to watch it together.
Google+ is not perfect, and this is why they only launched it to a small number of people right now. And the reviews so far are mostly positive and they are hitting some right on the nail with solutions from Facebook's short comings such as introducing Circles. And one thing that I really like, muting notifications on a post. It's a little thing, but I'm really annoyed when I jump in to comment on someone's post and then it just becomes an endless conversation between two people and I'm getting flooded by all the notifications! With Plus you can just mute it. Google+ team are continually updating the service and feedbacks are pouring in. I just hope that they can take this to the public soon, but not too soon as they have lots of polishing to do. As long as it's not like Gmail where it was in beta for years! I can really see Plus' potential here and so does most people who uses it. Unlike Google Buzz or Wave, they like it and can use it right away. If Google continue on this path, they may be up to par with Facebook and even overthrown Facebook. Just like how Facebook killed MySpace.

Facebook should be worried! And they better take Google as a serious threat and start stealing and implement some of Google+ features, especially circles. But this may not happen, as Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, mentioned in the Skype annoucement during a Q&A session that these circles are too complicated for Facebook users. Facebook have similar feature called friends list, and he said that only 5% actually uses it. In my opinion, just because they don't use it does not mean they don't want or need it. I used it, but I do find it quite complicated that I stop using it myself.

Google+ team have lots of work ahead, but the steps they have taken so far are impressive and seems to be on the right direction. Google Search have more than 29 Millions hits per second, 500,000 Android activations per day, and Gmail have 193.3 millions users monthly. These are impressive numbers and with this much traffic and users, I don't think they'll have a hard time with people joining Google+ once they launch it to the general public. I hope that Google Picassa and Google Talk integration is just the begining. Google have so many products that it can integrate to Plus like Calendar, Docs any many more. I haven't even talk about Google Takeout! The future looks bright for Google. So, to the Google+ team, keep up the good work and good luck with your battle against Facebook. You'll do just fine and I will continue to support you as long my friends do!


Are you using Google+? Tell me what you think about it so far.
And if you're using Facebook, what do you like or dislike about it? And would you jump to Google+?


  1. Disclaimer: I don't post pictures of my dogs on Facebook, don't have one at the moment. And no I don't want to watch Midnight in Paris. Those are only examples.

  2. Hey Alex, I wrote a nice long reply but the 'Back' button on my browser ate it. (I hit back accidentally and lost the commnent).

    So here is the short version: it's a nice overview on Google+ for people who haven't heard of Google+. However, since your target is geeks so many of them have heard about it from other sources. To make you stand out, I would suggest pick a niche area(such as privacy improvement on Google+) and focus on it then you would attract even more readers.

    Anyhow, it's great post and I can see you have put lots of effort into it. Great job and please keep it up as I figure writing is like muscle, the more you write the more you can write.

    So please keep up the good job.

  3. Thanks for you reply Ryan.

    I guess for my first post, I wasn't going all geeky since some of my early reviewers aren't all geeks. Hence the sub title at the top "Geeks and geeks wannabe" Plus I started with the assumption you haven't got the invitation to Google+. But I get your point and another person also mentioned "know your audience".

    I also agree that it's like a muscle but I also think about it as vocal cord muscle. The more training the better you get. But without the talent, you still can't sing! LOL So yeah I'm dipping my toe into the water to see if I sound promissing or not.