Review: Google+ a few months in

Google+ has been out for a few months now, so its time to take a breath, and reflect on its impact on the social media market. Technically Google+ is...

Google+

Google+ has been out for a few months now, so its time to take a breath, and reflect on its impact on the social media market. Technically Google+ is still in private beta, but at this point anyone who wants to be on there, is likely on there. Invites have been freely traded over existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

After a few months I find Google+ hasn’t decreased and certainly hasn’t eliminated my need to use other social networks. After a big influx of initial interest around the time of launch, users joining Google+ has now calmed down and the number adding me to their circle has dropped from 20+ per day, down to a few per day.

Signal to noise
On every network the signal-to-noise ratio, or useful content vs rubbish differs dramatically. Your Google+ experience will vary based on who you choose to follow. Your stream can be filtered based on circles, so one way you could divide up your circles is to place contacts in a, Must see, Sometimes, Rarely or Never circle. Over time you may tweak which circle a contact lands in, based on the quality of posts over time.

Different Uses
Google+ is being used by people very differently. Photographer Tray Radcliff posts his stunning pictures and behind the scenes videos of how they were constructed allowing fans to comment and get immediate feedback. Steve Molk uses it to publish his location to the world and publicise his podcast MolksTVTalk. Most users however use Google+ just as they use Facebook or Twitter, to post interesting things happening to them, or in their life.

Google+ Circles

Circles
The first few times you place contacts its a fun novelty, unfortunately the fun wears off pretty quickly and I hate to say it but Zuckerberg was right, people don’t want to make lists. Despite there being benefits of targeting posts to a desired audience, it’s a painstakingly laborious process. For the first couple of weeks I would place everyone who added me into a circle, as time went on, I couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps its because I almost always post to the public.

Privacy
Recently the media made a massive deal about Facebook updating their site to apparently copy Google+. In reality Facebook has had user lists and the ability to target posts for years. What changed was simply the naming, some users apparently confused by posting to ‘Everyone’, thinking it meant everyone on Facebook, not the Public. So yes Google+ may have had the foresight to call things Public from the word go, but Google fanboys shouldn’t loose sight of reality.

Policies
Google+ still doesn’t have a business version and their ban on corporate accounts is still in place. One example of an account that has slipped under the radar is the Australian Labor Party. There’s also the real name policy as well which has over filtered, catching some genuine users with strange names. The idea here is that using your real name will avoid the problematic anonymous filth or flaming that occurs in other online communities (looking at you YouTube).

Profiles
Google Profiles provide a list of the articles you’ve +1’d around the net. The Posts section of your profile is effectively a list of your favourite posts online, so naturally you would head back there occasionally to pull up an old article. Strangely I just don’t. While the Favourite button in Google Reader or Favourite section of Twitter gets used constantly, for some reason heading to the Posts section of Google+ just hasn’t become normal routine behaviour. 

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Hangouts
Hangouts are without a doubt the most interesting a unique feature of Google+, there simply isn’t any other services that offer 10-person video chat for free. There’s also the opportunity to stumble across celebrities and participate in their Hangouts. With only 9 spots, you better be fast.

Google+ Hangouts

Sparks
Probably the most forgotten about feature of Google+, Sparks is supposed to keep you up-to-date with your favourite interests. Like a modern day RSS feed, minus the geeky complexity, Sparks somehow fails to be useful. Perhaps its the location in the navigation, being below your Stream and not a top-level navigation item, it does get forgotten about during day-to-day use. There’s also no notification of new items from your favourite Sparks, so while the idea was good, the execution needs some reworking to truly be useful.

Google+ Sparks

Games
The biggest feature that’s been added since launch is Google+ Games. The implementation is done quite well with the Games Stream providing updates on the games your friends are playing and their top scores. The in-game comparison to your friends is fantastic idea. There’s no waiting till the game is over, then seeing who you beat, it’s live and in-game. ‘Next to beat’ in Angry Birds, just spurs you on to play more. The biggest problem Google+ games has right now is the line-up, its pretty limited with only 16 games available.

Google+ Games

Overall
As a lover of technology and everything new, I know I’m supposed to love Google+, but I just can’t. Its biggest problem is
that its not different enough. Sharing on Facebook and Twitter serve very different needs and Google+ is just left hanging on the side. Despite pinning it to the Taskbar of every machine I use, placing it with equal footing with Facebook, I just don’t need to use it. While the investment and persistence of Google to make Google+ work will no doubt mean its around for quite some time, ultimately when the dust settles, a social network depends on users.

You can put all the glitter and gloss you want on the service, with Games, Hangouts and Sparks, but if the majority of my contacts are elsewhere. Google+ has a serious long-term problem.

Some like Jason Calacnis claim the engagement on a Google+ posts is significantly higher than other social networks, however I have not experienced this. For internet celebrities with a specific tech-focused enthusiastic audience, this may indeed be the case. But for an average user, twitter still reins supreme for posting and getting a responses in seconds.

At least the posts on Google+, about what to do on Google+, have died down.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.