At the end of September, Google+ went public for everyone to use. With previous social stints such as Google Buzz, which is phasing out in 2012, Google offers another social network next to all the others available. Though still in beta but with some time to crystallise itself out, let’s take a look at Google+, what you can do with it, and share some examples and context.
Google+ is a platform that lets you share your thoughts, links, photos and so on with specific groups. It allows its users to +1 and recommend items across the web to their friends and contacts, using e.g. sharing buttons and adding visibility in Google search.
You can create groups of contacts, called “circles”, around for example colleagues, family or a running group. So you use these groups to control who you share with and whose posts you see. You don’t have the issue of agreeing to be friends with each other, like some networks, where the lines can be blurry; someone you work with may not be a friend, an old friend may not be a current friend, etc. That is, if you are the stricter type on categorisations and on who is in your digital sharing world. On the other hand, people may wonder, how far does one want to segment their world and connections?
One of the nice features in Google+ is video “hangouts” that lets you bring up to 9 people into your world via live webcam. It seems Skype, iChat, and chat roulette combined. There are lots of possibilities here for individuals and organisations. With YouTube under Google’s wings, and integration opportunities aplenty, you can also use the Share button under a YouTube video to suggest watching the video with friends in a Google+ hangout.
To start a Hangout just invite your circle(s), who will see the Hangout appear in their stream (updates), and other people. The threshold here is that you have to download yet another plugin (I think I had about 25Mb) and have to get people, including yourself, to actively join Google+. However, Drew Olanoff’s article on The Next Web reports on a fantastic example of Hangout use by musician Daria Musk. An uplifting read, you get to understand how she was able to reach 24,000 followers. Also, it allows for live shows with viewers from all over the world and co-creation as fans are helping Musk prepare her next album.
Other features include games, ability to download your content from Google+, a visualisation tool called “Ripples” that shows in-depth how resharing activity happens regarding a public post. Another feature is “Google+ Pages”. This allows organisations and publications to set up profiles or pages, with the posting and syndication of posts relating to them. Sherilynn Macale reports in another The Next Web article about this feature and, in almost brand ambassador style, is very much in favour:
The +1 is Google’s way of tracking who all is recommending and interacting with your brand across the web. Soon, all the +1s around your brand will be connected directly to your official Google+ Page, anchored to your identity and allowing you to analyze data related to those +1 clicks. With more +1 clicks in aggregate, Google will be able to take those recommendations and analytics then put your company in places that actually matter. In this manner, Google+ will extend your brand and put it in front of users across the globe.
Some context of Google+ is that Google is still the main gateway for searching things on the web but more and more things are unsearchable because they are off-limits to search engines. Massive amounts of users are in these places, such as Facebook, spending a lot of time there looking at many pages and sharing things. This means that Google loses valuable information that can be used for advertising and product improvement. Note that this debate revolves slightly on the ever-present tension between public and private information on the web. Another contextual factor is that also other search engines are catching up and social networks are increasingly performing functions of search engines, i.e. recommendations.
Surely there are some strengths here with bringing a social network like Google+ to the table. There is lots more to tell and learn about this case and its impacts but overall; social, search, stats and good integrated user-friendly features seem a powerful combination.
What do you think? Are you using Google+? What is your experience? Do you think Google+ will go beyond the project stage and scale up in the short or long-term?