I wrote at the end of last month about my first impressions of Google+. I based that post solely on what I had read about the search engine/advertising company’s new foray into a world dominated by Facebook and Twitter. Well, now that I’ve had some time to use Google+ myself, I can update those initial thoughts. Spoiler alert: I still think “social network” is a fundamental mischaracterization of what Google+ is and does. I’m also an unashamed Google+ fanboy.
When I first received an invite, the population was still relatively sparse inside Google+. I found a few friends, a lot of geek celebs (Leo Laporte and MySpace founder Tom Anderson spring to mind), and appropriately, many, many Googlers. In the couple of weeks between then and now, Google has thrown wide the gates of Plus. If you need an invite, just ask us in the comments section below, or hit us up on Twitter. You won’t be lonely—Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page said that Google+ has racked up over ten million users who share over one billion pieces of content every day. An even more recent estimate says there are about 27.8 million users with the letter “a” in their name, and presumably many others that do not. Not too shabby for the new kids on the block.
So yes, people are there. Sure, it’s safe to say that’s not really Hunter S. Thompson on Google+, and the spam will probably get worse before it gets better. But real people are sharing stuff with each other. There are myriad articles about the new service: how to use Google+, how to use Google+ for marketing, why it’s not a Facebook killer, why Skype should be scared. These represent a good selection of the gamut of what people are writing. My take is slightly different.
I think Google is trying to facilitate as many levels of disclosure as possible. Technology writer Mike Elgan, whom I’ve mentioned before, articulated that fact better than I could. He pointed out that arranging other users in circles doesn’t just change the audience. It allows for totally distinct content types. Google+ is a one-stop shop for creating and publishing blog posts, tweet-like short bursts, newsletters, and emails to one or a few people.
There are ways of doing this on Facebook, and even to an extent on Twitter. But they’re not easy, and they’re not obvious. Google has recognized the many creative use cases for each type of social network, and built them into the fabric of Google+. After spending some time with Google+ myself, I can tell that everything (except for maybe the fun 10-person video chats called Hangouts) takes a backseat to Circles. Like Gmail Labels, once you use Circles you quickly forget what such services were like without them.
Then there’s the great Google+ versus Facebook user competition. Facebook’s issued confirmation that it’s rocking 750 million users these days. As I just mentioned, Google+ is sitting closer to
ten 28 million. But Google truly doesn’t want or need to compete with Facebook, not on user count, and at least not yet. Instead, they want to keep collecting and iterating on as much feedback as possible. They want to be the paragon of user responsiveness that Facebook just isn’t, and probably never will be. And so far, it’s working: Circle enough Googlers on Google+ and you’ll see feature revisions and additions, not to mention personal responses to bug reports, requests and complaints, almost daily.
Geeks, however, are an easy sell; the challenge is convincing their friends and families to give the more nuanced interaction Google+ offers a try in their daily lives. That feat was made slightly easier yesterday, with the release of the Google+ app for iPhone. While Google has stumbled (hard) in this space before, they’ve already shown they’re serious about doing it right this time. Only time will tell if they’re too late to the game.