For the last week or two the Internet has been awash with chatter about Google+, the latest brick in Google’s Great Wall. By opening it up to a relatively small number of users during its broad testing phase, Google managed to create near-hysteria around the product/service. People were begging for invitations so that they could get in early and not miss out.
In typical fashion the first I heard of it was when a friend in America, someone far more savvy and deeply esconced in the technical world than I, emailed an invitation; more accurately, I discovered the invitation a little later when I went to empty the spam folder (a common problem, it would seem, as several people I know received these early invitations and deleted them without realising what they were). The latest fad rarely captures my attention until it has settled in and become part of the esablishment, but given the source of the invitation I decided to set up a Google+ account.
I don’t use Facebook. I did, once, set up a Facebook account solely in order to get a message to someone I could apparently contact in no other way and had to deal with over an hour of nonsense (and lots of spammy emails) and security warnings in the process, so I shan’t be changing my stance any time soon. Endless games, prods and so forth really don’t appeal. On the other hand, I do use and like Twitter, with its restricted message length and simple rolling wall of text. Google+ seems to lie somewhere between the two, with a fairly clean and simple design, but certainly more options than Twitter has. It allows you to organise contacts into “circles” so that you can easily send a message to a predetermined group of people. It lets you know when there are comments on posts you have initiated or added to, essential given how quickly things drop out of sight (lacking the 140 character limit of Twitter, Google+ fills up the screen space extremely rapidly, especially if you view it on a mobile ‘phone). More interestingly, it has a Skype-like video ‘phone function called a “Hangout” (rather unfortunately, as “Jon is hanging out” is not what I particularly want displayed to my friends. Then again, it also told me that a friend of mine was idle, so perhaps it’s offering some sort of judgemental commentary) which I can see being very useful, particularly once they add the ability to record the audio.There is also the “+1” button, which seems to be a way of letting the world know that you approve of a particular post or site, although I’m not terribly clear on what that actually means. One guide I saw unhelpfully descibed the “+1” button as being just like the “like” function on Facebook, which is as effective as saying that a Volkswagen is very much like an Audi when explaining the whole notion of cars to somebody who has never seen one.
In many ways I’m not an ideal tester for this sort of thing. Google+ is attempting to fill a need I don’t really have, so my explorations of it have been slightly distant, pottering around and doing a bit of background reading, but while I’m interested in it I can’t say it generates any huge excitement. The integration with other areas of Google is probably where real benefits will become apparent to me, something that is likely to expand and improve as Google+ develops and moves into its full release. Already there is the option to have photos taken on a ‘phone camera automatically upload to a Google+ album, for example, and from there they can be shared to any contacts (from your Google Mail list, say) via posts on Google+. Presumably the result of this will be a 1984-style Newspeak where much of the English language will be replaced by the word “Google.”
For now, I find myself checking Twitter throughout the day and using it to engage with friends (and occasionally people I really don’t know at all) whereas Google+ is something I drop in on to have another look and tinker and see if it’s doing anything useful yet. There is potential there, lots of lurking benefits for the time when it grows up and people find genuinely useful things it can do. Hopefully adding Farmville won’t be one of them.