Quick Overview of Google Plus

Google PlusGoogle+ is the latest addition to online social networking, combining Google’s +1 tagging with a photo application, contacts, a personal profile, and other features expected from a social networking site. Google Plus is currently invite-only, and each user has a limit of about 10 invites, similar to the launch of GMail. Google Plus is a potential major competitor to the currently most popular social network, Facebook, and therefore this article will compare the two as part of the exploration.

Photo Sharing

An interesting part of the photo application which makes it different from Facebook, is that the comments are on the right hand side of the screen, rather than below the photo itself. This creates more space for comments without the user having to scroll down the page. Photos also seem to appear larger on the Google Plus application than on Facebook’s.

Just like Facebook, Google Plus can detect where there is a face on the uploaded photo, and allows the user to choose a friend to tag. As soon as you type into the input box, a list of your friends drops down as suggestions. The experience will be very familiar for any Facebook user.

Once your albums have been created, they can be viewed in the photos section, where all of your friends’ albums will appear. Hover over one of the albums and you can see an enlarged thumbnail of the featured photo. This is a replica of Facebook’s photo section, with the added javascript hover function.

One of the coolest things that I’ve seen on Google Plus is the ability to drag photos into the application in order to upload them.

Sparks

Unlike Facebook’s “Like” feature, Google Plus has Sparks, which allows you to search for content and add it to your interests. The cool thing about this is that it acts as a kind of news feed for your interests. So if you pick “web development” as your interest, then you can see updates to that topic in your Sparks page. There is also a share link beneath each item within the interest, to enable users to share this interesting content quickly with their friends.

Social Circles

Another awesome feature of Google Plus is the social circles that you can create in order to categorize your friends. This is something that Facebook just failed to do, although they did try to using the idea of “lists”. My feeling was that although Facebook lists was good for privacy if you knew how to work it, they didn’t really serve much purpose otherwise. In Google Plus, it forms a core part of the service because the idea is more about separating the various functions of your relationships with people: business associates, friends, family, etc. It’s just a lot more clearer in purpose compared to Facebook’s solution.

The graphical user experience is again stellar when using this feature of the service.

Sharing Content

One of the things that I appreciate the most about Google Plus is the experience of using the functions. It’s so elegantly designed, the way that the share input drops down and expands, so that the text area is wide enough for you to see what you’re doing. They’ve really outdone themselves in creating a joyous experience for the user.

Notifications

Another awesome thing about Google Plus is the notifications. These seem to work similar to Facebook’s alert and popup system, but the experience goes far beyond that of Facebook. As you can see from the screenshot to the left, the notifications drop down is much wider on Google Plus, allowing for more information. It’s strange that they didn’t do this on Facebook, since the fact that it’s a drop-down means that it doesn’t actually take up space on the page.

Not only are the notifications more sophisticated, but you can actually reply to comments and posts from the notifications panel. This is really good for when you’re on a page that you don’t want to leave, but you also want to reply to a comment. You don’t have to jump from page to page responding to things, you can just do it from your notifications box. I was pleasantly surprised when I found this feature.

Stream

In all honesty, the Stream feature is almost exactly the same as the Facebook news feed. It’s not a lack of creativity on Google’s part, I think it just makes the most sense to do things like this. It’s a pity though that Facebook had to learn the lesson and invent it, while Google Plus just gets to add it to their array of core functions. What is really different about the Stream feature though is that you can filter it according to your social circles. I love this because I can select “family” to see what my folks are up to, “friends” to see what my friends are up to, and “work colleagues” to spy on my workmates.

If you want to find out more, visit plus.google.com. Or, go here if you want to find out why Google Plus is going to fail.

Hangouts

Google Plus HangoutsProbably the most elaborate and unique feature to that the Google Plus team has integrated into their social network is the Hangouts feature. This is basically an extension of the Google Chat gadget, which allows users to call each other from the site and do video conferencing. It begs the question why no other social network that I’ve seen has included this feature yet. What were they waiting for?
What do you think that Facebook is thinking about Google Plus right now?