On a personal note, I begin residency this Friday (July 1), and would appreciate any prayers and well wishes on this next stage of my career.
Now on to the subject of this post.
This past Tuesday Google announced Google+, what the average user might refer to as Google’s answer to Facebook. In fact, Google would argue that it is more than that, and it’s not yet complete. Rather than releasing this new product all at once, Google is releasing it in pieces, slowly testing and learning as it goes. This is how Gmail was rolled out from Beta to final product, as well as many of their other products. Just like Gmail, this product is currently invite only.
I was fortunate enough to receive one such invite so I hope to very briefly discuss my experience with the website over the past couple of hours.
I would like to sincerely thank the benefactor, P.T., for the invite. For their privacy I do not want to give their full name. I do not even want to link to their blog for fear people will inundate them with requests of their own. Frankly if you know me well enough to read this blog, expect an invite as soon as I have the ability to send them out.
In fact this is how Facebook itself rolled out: in its first few years Facebook was clean and simple, and over time it became as busy as it is today. Initially only college students were on Facebook, and you needed an officially supported college email address to create an account.
The official blog post announcing Google+ has some YouTube videos that can give you some idea of how the product looks. It is important to note that this product is going to be a big part of Google’s core products. I say this because soon after the blog post announcing Google+, Google had another post about how their home page is changing to be cleaner and simpler. The navigation bar that sits on top of Google’s pages (Reader, Gmail, Documents, Search, etc.) is now more prominent and largely more persistent. After Google+ rolls out, the top left corner of this bar should link you to your Google+ page. In fact, mine says “+Usama” Even Google Maps has a new, cleaner, more pleasant look.
I won’t go over the history of its development, the ArsTechnica article I linked to can provide more information.
my honesty is better for Google
I like to think I am a semi-power user of Google’s services. I use Gmail, Reader, Calendar, Documents, PicasaWeb, Search (obviously), Maps, YouTube, and Groups on a regular basis. I also have an unlocked Nexus One. Prior to owning a Nexus One I had an iPod Touch but all my data was on Google’s servers, and I synced to the iOS device using the m.google.com Exchange sync services. I pay Google for additional storage beyond the free ~8GB. I also use Google Apps for my family.
(I am of course not on Blogger, as Jonathan hooked me into WordPress early, but I may move to Blogger in the near future. Not because WordPress isn’t good, it is amazing. But maybe it’ll be easier for me to have everything in one place).
So you can imagine how excited I am at the idea of using Google+, especially over Facebook. You might also think I’m biased to favor Google and Google+ over Facebook. It is true that I love Google, and I want them to succeed. However for Google to truly have a service that is not just better than Facebook, but in a different class, I want to be honest in my comparison and I will pull no punches.
I urge all of you Google fans out there to do the same, for Google+ and for everything (that includes Android!).
Lists vs. Circles
For example – many early reviewers have already highlighted Google+’s “Circles” feature, which they argue does a better job at managing the list of users who you are connected to on the service (what Facebook would call, “Friends.”) In particular take a look at what Levy from ArsTechnica said:
I thought this was strange as Facebook does offer a similar feature. On Facebook it is called “Lists,” and I’ve taken a screenshot for you here:
In the column on the left, those are all the lists I have made, and I can cherry pick who I post each of my status updates to, who sees my album, and so much more by utilizing those lists.
Google+ did not do this first, but it does it far better than Facebook in my opinion. The organization is very intuitive, the (Flash?) animation makes the whole process easy, and dare I say it, fun.
my data is already on Google+, using services which are “outside,” yet still MORE private than Facebook
My photos on Facebook? I can send links to non-Facebook users but once I have sent the link I cannot control their ability to view the album anymore. They can use that link to see the album until I delete the album.
Photos: With Google+ my PicasaWeb Albums integrate right in, and the privacy settings I had set for each individual album transfer over to Google+ – in PicasaWeb one can reset links therefore the privacy of my albums is always under my control. I can license pictures for Creative Common use immediately through PicasaWeb.
Videos: Basically take everything I said about Photos and apply it here. My videos are up on PicasaWeb, but I can also throw them onto Google’s YouTube service. From there, again I can restrict or license my videos for use, if I want.
Messages: They integrate into my email address. Facebook does this too, you get an email from Facebook telling you that you have a message in your inbox. The difference is Google+ messages fall into your inbox and the “from” field has the Google+ user’s name, NOT “Google+.”
Organization: Lists on Facebook? Circles on Google+ is far more intuitive and you’re immediately asked what Circle each user should be added to which ensures you’re already organizing your friends.
Mobile (Android): The Facebook app on Android is tolerable. With Google+ and Android, I get instant uploads of my camera pictures, I get the ability to chat with certain Circles if I want (Huddle). Let me say this Android app is really, really beautiful. It’s a mix between the clean look of Google web and the swipe nature of Windows Phone 7. By the way it is very important to have a strong presence on Android, as Mr. Andy Rubin recently shared on Twitter there are approximately 500,000 Android devices activated daily. Sure we can argue what exactly “activation” means, but I have no problems believing Android is gaining market as quickly as it currently is.
Mobile (non Android): By the way Google can be pretty slow about it but they have a good history of supporting iOS devices with native apps (see Latitude on iPhone), and they plan to release a native app for the iPhone soon. Although I hope they start supporting Windows Phone 7 with native apps soon too, since Nokia is exclusively with them. Until then Google is supporting all platforms via webApp access. I will admit that Facebook is further ahead on this, but as the Android app is proof, not all efforts are equal across the different platforms.
there will be more
That’s all I can comment on right now actually. I have to play with it more, but as I’m beginning my intern year I’m not sure when I will get to update with another post. I will try to update within the month on my experience. Right now I can affirm that it’s fast, it’s clean, it’s simple, and it’s a joy to use. I am excited to get more friends and family on this service, and on their Android devices.
I am also excited on all the other parts of Google+ that are not yet ready for their debut.
I will leave you with some screenshots of Google+, for privacy reasons I’ve redacted names of my friends.
Above is the new home page, and you can sort of make out how the “+Usama” link is ready and waiting for me to load up plus.google.com (Google+).
This is the “home page” (notice the home icon is depressed, next to the “Google+” logo). Next to that Home icon are the “Photos,” “Profile,” and “Circles” icons respectively. Finally a search box to find people.
On my right I am getting “friend suggestions", I can click into any stream I want on the left.
The elegant, easy and fun to use Circles page. Again, I apologize for the redaction but it is necessary.
I cannot wait to give you more information on my experience with Google+, on the web and on my Android phone. Thanks again to my generous benefactor, P.T., for making this possible.