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A screengrab of the Google + menu and toolbarPlaying around with Google + last night, I had a ball clicking buttons and playing with the features the network had to offer. But I kept running into the same problem — there was no one in this sandbox but me.

That’s the main problem the network faces as it mounts its assault on Facebook.

The few people on Google + got there by special invitation, and the network’s suggestion feature didn’t make it easy to find out who else made it to the party. While I don’t want Google to automatically find, add and sort my contacts, Google should consider improving the tools that let me know who’s out there.

There are some really great features in the network worth mentioning. For one, the navigation bar, which pushes you alerts on network activity without being too intrusive, and the group video chat function, Hangouts, is way beyond any free video chat service I’ve seen.

But there are problems, too. Apart from actually populating the network, what will make or break this network is how well it works with the Google products I already use. Getting me to switch from Facebook is going to rely on whether I can fold G+ into my daily routine while I’m checking e-mail, looking at my calendar and going through my reader feed. The company is in the unique position to become a one-stop shop for work and play.

 

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So far, the integration choices on G+ are kind of baffling.

Google Chat is integrated, as is Picasa. You can import your contacts from Yahoo and Hotmail. But unless you get very clever, there’s no way to seek out your friends from Facebook. There’s no Twitter integration yet — surprising, given that you can hook your Twitter feed into Buzz.

And apart from the navigation bar, the network has precious little to do with Gmail, Reader, Google Docs, or Google Calendar. Even adding the widgets already available in iGoogle would help, and something I hope the company adds in the future. Right now, there’s just too much switching to be done to use your Google services. Checking your Gmail, for example, opens the service in a new tab or window, and duplicates your open chats.

On the privacy front, Google has improved what it’s done before. Google’s been careful not to hook too many things into the network automatically, but needs to be clearer about how its privacy settings work. Each feature makes it pretty clear what’s public and what’s private, but the central privacy settings are a bit convoluted.

And what about advertising? We’ll just have to wait and see. There’s certainly a lot of potential for Google to use this data for targeted advertising, but right now, there are no ads on the network.

According to Google spokesman Chris Gaither, Google is more concentrated on getting the network off the ground than it is about advertising for the moment, but he said company will stick by its rule that personally identifiable information doesn’t go to third parties, and that personal information won’t be shared without consent.

Otherwise, Google’s taking a wait-and-see approach during the field tests. “The team has been reading feedback,” Gaither said, “and making note of what people have been saying so far.”

That’s something you’ll be hearing a lot from Google. The company has made it clear that G+ is a work-in-progress and that it’s going to continually be trying to work through bugs and barbs that will inevitably pop up.

Overall, Google + was fun to use and has a lot of potential. I could see using it in addition to Facebook, but until Google weaves more of their existing services into G+ and opens it up to include more of the people I want to connect with, it won’t become my main way to socialize online.

 

Here’s a deeper dive into the network by feature:

Circles: Circles is that it’s not so exactly-like-Facebook as it initially seemed. Instead, it’s a hybrid of friending and following that could get difficult to wrap one’s head around. You can put anyone in a Circle, and they can choose to reciprocate or not. Regardless of whether someone you’ve added to your Circles adds you back, you’ll be able to see their public updates.

The animations for creating, deleting and modifying Circles are also, I have to say, way too much fun for their own good. I admit that I found myself creating circles just to delete them.

Stream: The stream — essentially the Google + version of a Facebook news feed — pulls in information from posts made by people in your circles. You, or anyone following you, can also give your personal endorsement, the +1, to any post or comment.

Aesthetically, it’s a big step up from the News Feed. Practically, it has a couple features that edge out the news feed. Google has the added features of letting users “mute” or hide a post in the stream as well. You can also sort your stream by Circles to see posts only relevant to work or to catch up on the latest news from your friends.

When it comes to sharing information on your stream, the functionality is very similar to Facebook as well. The only major problem I had with the stream is that it’s not possible to access some of the settings on a post before it’s published. So while a user can edit with whom they want to share a given tidbit, the options to stop others from resharing that post or commenting on it aren’t enabled until after it’s live.

Photos: The photo viewer on G+ is solid, and looks good, though it’s not amazing. Integrated with Picasa, the service lets you tag anyone’s pictures, which could be a serious problem. Users do, however, have the option to approve or reject photo tags, and Google lets you know when you’ve been ID’d in a photo.

Sparks: I was disappointed with Sparks, which pushes users content they choose to follow. As an avid Google Reader user I’m bummed to see there doesn’t seem to be a way to pull my reader feed into my Sparks. Plus, the content in the feeds you select don’t appear to be sorted by time, and there’s also no way to sort your feeds or view all of the subjects you’ve chosen at once.

Hangouts: For me, this is by far the coolest feature of Google +, and one that really distinguishes it from any other social network out there. Someone clearly put a lot of thought into the design of Hangouts, letting users mute video or audio and even giving you a second to make sure you’re presentable before joining the chat.

Not only does its group video chat feature work like a dream, Google has cleverly integrated YouTube into Hangouts to let you watch a video together. It even fires up a push-to-talk feature when you’re watching a video, so that the speaker feedback doesn’t hurt everyone’s ears.

 

Eight Quick Thoughts on Google Plus Updated 2 hrs ago

June 30, 2011 8:21pmcommentshareprint

Sree Sreenivasan checks out Google’s latest foray into social networking.

Eight Quick Thoughts on Google Plus

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

How new is Google+ (aka Google Plus)? The invitation I got to join the field test of the service landed in my Gmail spam folder. It was an inauspicious start, but I was still excited to try it out and see what the hype is about.

Let me start by saying that I think insta-reviews of big, ambitious new services by iconic tech companies aren’t very useful. There’s very little you can learn in a few hours — with a few hundred testers — that will capture the breadth, depth and true possibilities of anything complicated. Even NYT food reviewers try to go a restaurant multiple times before handing out their precious stars.

That said, here are some initial impressions.

• This is Google’s last stand in social-media. After striking out with all-hype and little-substance services like Buzz and Wave, most folks have written off Google’s chances of doing anything effective in social media. Google chairman Eric Schmidt has characterized his company’s failure to challenge Facebook as his biggest regret. Here’s what he told tech journalist Kara Swisher at the AllThingsD conference in June, as reported by Wired: “I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” Schmidt said. “CEOs need to take responsibility. I screwed up.”  As Google’s efforts flopped, Facebook — along with services like Twitter and LinkedIn (and even Foursquare, which has hit 10 million members recently) — kept growing. This is probably the last time anyone will be willing to give a Google social-media effort a fair hearing. So the stakes here are very high.

• Don’t count Google out. Back in March, I wrote the following about Google in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake: This crisis has shown the role that Google plays in our lives: the smart, reliable, inventive friend who we can count on in times of need. It’s not as exciting as our new, hipper friends, perhaps, but when we need it, Google is always there. I was talking about its efforts such as  the Japan People Finder and Google.org’s Crisis Response Center. But in the world of tech, being reliable isn’t enough, you need to be hip, have some pizzazz. And social seems to be the way to get that hipness. Google, a company that reinvented things we didn’t know needed reinventing — search, email, maps, documents — shouldn’t be counted out if it wants one last try.

• Google says it isn’t reinventing social networking, it’s reinventing online sharing. Here’s the premise, as outlined in a blog postToday, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools. In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.

• Google Plus has three features worth noting (there might be others). One is called Circles, which allows you to share content with specific groups — or circles — of people; Hangouts, which are group video chats; and Sparks, which produce a constant stream of articles, photos, videos in subject you are interested in. They are unusual and show promise — in theory.

• Google is going after some of the obvious issues with Facebook. The biggest of these is privacy and how information is shared. Right now, when you post something on Facebook, it could get shared with almost everyone you know. There are things you can do to customize what you share by using the lists feature (here’s the official tutorial), but it’s awkward, clumsy and requires way too much work for little payoff. The Circles idea is that you create circles such as “family,” “co-workers,” “real-friends” and can easily share photos, videos, posts, with only people you want seeing that stuff.

• You can’t judge a social network when almost no one is using it yet. Right now, it’s by invitation only (here’s where you can ask for an invite — it may take days or weeks to get one). I can’t test the features or tell you how they’ll work because a network like this needs thousands — millions — of users in order to be dynamic and robust. Gmail started out as invite only and it has done fine, but because it was just an email service, you could test it with other systems. Google Plus doesn’t play with other services, so it’s pretty quiet right now. My suggestion to Google would be to open it up as fast as it possibly can (how about letting each user invite 100 people they know, like in Gmail’s early days) so that it can capitalize on the interest and curiosity.

• Facebook won’t sit still. I expect to see some of Google Plus features showing up inside Facebook in the months ahead — as well as other innovations to keep people interested and tied into the Facebook world.

• The main question is going to be, do people want another social network? Even though millions of people are active Google users every day, using Google Plus means making a decision to actively participate in this new service. Consumers have invested their time and energy and attention on things like Facebook and Twitter and will now need to decide whether they want to add another to their toolkit. The gravitational pull of the other services is so strong that getting people to use Google Plus will depend on whether enough of their friends and family members are already on it.  But those others folks won’t join unless their friends are there, creating a social-media chicken-and-egg problem.

For now, all I can say is if and when you get a chance, play around with Google Plus, knowing that some of its innovations and philosophy are going to be part of your digital world, no matter which network you finally settle on.

Post your comments below using your Facebook account or on Twitter @sree.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.

 

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110630/manhattan/eight-quick-thoughts-on-google-plus#ixzz08oxbv6uA

Disa

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Is On Google Plus
Mark Zuckerberg
I could stare at this all day. And I have.

Most likely The Zuck is scoping out the competition as Google Plus is widely seen as Google’s reply to Facebook’s increasingly expansive social network. Regardless of the reason, it seems Facebook’s CEO has found his way onto Google’s most ambitious new product to date, even if it’s not yet ready for primetime.

Google Plus Locks Down Against ‘Insane’ Demand

The Google Plus Project Promises to Make the Web More Social

News Corp. Sells Myspace… to Justin Timberlake?

As Forbes blogger Kashmir Hill notes, Zuckerberg has foregone his usual cheerful profile pic with a sad panda version. Maybe he’s showing his disapproval of the intuitive and easy-to-use grouping system that reportedly blows Facebook’s mechanism out of the water? (I have a sad panda face of my own because I haven’t yet received an invitation).

You can see Zuckerberg’s Google Plus profile for yourself, but I must warn you that his mournful eyes have stared into my soul and found it wanting. Just FYI.

Follow Matt Marquez on Twitter: @mattmarquez

DISQUS...

gree? Anything I missed? Let us know in the comments.

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