Have you heard the news? The folks at Google are trying “to make connecting with people on the web more like connecting with them in the real world.” Their initiative is the Google+ project, a field trial version of an enhanced social networking website.
While Google+ is still in development, it is not generally open to public registration. At this time, an invitation from a registered Google+ user is required to set up a new account.
According to the Google+ website, only a “small group of people” are involved in the field trial. Realistically, that “small group” isn’t actually so small since Google+ invitations seemed to have gone viral over the past few weeks.
If you haven’t been invited yet, I’m sure your invitation is on its way. In the meantime, you can check out the Google+ website for more information on the features of the network if you’d like—though what you’ll find there is typical corporate puffery and promotion, a series of keywords and blurbs meant to catch your interest and leave you begging for more.
While that stuff is nice, it doesn’t really give you much insight into the actual user experience. It can’t tell you what it’s like to navigate the site as a newcomer. But, I can.
I received my Google+ invite a couple of weeks ago and have tinkered around on the site since then. And, now I’ll share some of my experiences and observations with you.
Bear in mind, however, that these comments pertain to the field trial version of the site as it currently is. By the time you get your Google+ invitation, or by the time it is entirely open to the public, some features may be changed, added or deleted.
In order to set up a Google+ profile, you must first set up a Google account. The set-up is simple and requires double verification. You must first verify by clicking on a link sent to your email address and then verify again by entering a code delivered to your phone via a text message or voice call.
You must create a public Google profile. It doesn’t have to be detailed and extensive, but it requires your real name as a singular person. For Google+ purposes, Google profiles cannot be created for couples or groups of people or for nonhuman entities such as animals or businesses.
Your Google profile and your Google+ profile are two different things. The information in your Google profile is necessary to access Google+, but the information in your Google+ profile isn’t necessarily included in your Google profile. Both are made public on the web, with privacy control settings for each.
Honestly, this thing with having two profiles was (and is) a little confusing for me to understand and explain. And, that’s my first beef with Google+.
My second beef is that it wasn’t easy for me to find my friends! Google+ generates friend suggestions from Android, Gmail and other Google products a user may typically use. My problem? I aint’ that typical—I don’t use any of those products.
Other friend-finding tools include buttons to access Yahoo and Hotmail accounts to import contacts, and a link to upload your computer’s address book. Guess what? I don’t have any of those things either!
What I do have is an AOL account—but Google+ doesn’t have a button, a link or anything else that I can use to access it. If there is some way to tap into my AOL account and import my contacts, I wasn’t able to find it.
I had to do things the old-fashioned way and type my friends’ names into the search bar at the top of the screen, which wasn’t too bad. But it wasn’t convenient either. One of my best friends is named Dave Jones. Imagine the number of hits that came up for that one!
Enough beef for now. Once you find your friends, Google+ has a super easy way of sorting them into different “circles” that mimic the social circles in one’s real life. You can drag friends into pre-loaded circles such as family and acquaintances, and you can create and customize additional circles to meet your specific needs. For instance, you can set up a work circle, an alumnae circle, a sports fans circle or any other type of circle you can imagine.
These circles allow you not only to organize your friends but also to control what information and posts are made available to persons in those circles. You can set up your profile to only display certain information to some circles. When posting, you can indicate which circles can access your post.
So, when you post that “Hank went poopy on the potty for the first time,” you can limit its visibility to your family so that, for example, your fantasy football friends don’t reply with comments like “TMI!!”
You can notify your work colleagues about Jack’s retirement party without worrying that some random person from your past or present is gonna crash.
You can also set up your privacy settings so that others cannot reshare/repost your post.
Chat is available—but, according to Google+ guidelines, you must explicitly invite someone to chat before he or she will appear on your chat list. The site’s “hangouts” feature offers enhanced communication capabilities, allowing up to 10 people to interact using their live webcams.
Google+ has some other neat features, though they aren’t anything truly extraordinary. The “sparks” feature allows you to sign up for feeds about things that interest you. You can search for specific interests or browse the featured interests that are displayed daily.
There is a “+1” feature that enables users to like things on the website and across the Internet. You can manage your +1’s list and control whether or not your +1’s are made publicly visible.
Google+ has a mobile app with some noteworthy characteristics. The app is available for Android, iPhone and Blackberry.
In addition to providing the ability to post and to access your profile and streams, the app gives you the chance to “huddle” with other users. A huddle enables up to six people to chat at one time via SMS messaging.
Android users can take advantage of the “instant upload” feature to instantly upload pics and videos to private albums, whence they can edit and share them as they please.
All in all, the Google+ project website is pretty cool. What sets it apart from other social networking sites is its provisions for privacy and sharing. It gives users a little more control, which requires some getting used to.
Nonetheless the site is relatively easy to use. Sure, there is a learning curve, but it isn’t an incredibly steep one. Acclimating to Google+ is a little like driving a new car for the first time. You’re already familiar with the technology but have to learn where all the buttons are and what the icons mean. Once you figure all that out, you’re in for a pretty smooth ride.