Google Plus: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

When I first logged into Google+ I was a bit underwhelmed, but the more I used and explored the site, the more I liked it.  While it has already been deemed Google’s Facebook competitor, it is quite  different.   I want to share my opinion on the pros and cons of the site to help shine a little light on what exactly Google+ is, and what it does (and doesn’t) do well.

The Good

Better Privacy

Google+ uses a diaspora -like way of sharing content with users by utilizing circles.  I think this format is very appealing to many users who are working to balance their professional and personal life.   Google+ makes it much easier to target content to your individual circles. It can be tricky because the proper circles must be added for each message.

Facebook is often critiqued for their dubious privacy changes, and Google seems to be catering to those unhappy users with easy to use privacy options in one location.   Deleting an account is straightforward, so is deleting social features. This may appeal to some disgruntled Facebookers, drawing them  to use Google+.

Huddles

Google+ ‘Huddle’ is a non-SMS group chat application for mobile phones.  This competes directly with other downloadable apps like Beluga,TextPlus, Kik, and GroupMe.  There has not been any run away app in this space, but a Google product like Huddles should help boost it to the forefront.

One negative of this is I didn’t see a way to view huddles online in Google+.  It would be ideal to keep some sort of log, or allow for a web based version of huddles to keep track of all communications.

Hangouts

Having worked remotely (at least part-time) for the past 3 years, a ‘Hangout’ has a lot of value to me.  This allows for a video based group chat, you can invite users, or  others see within a circle and join along.

 

I have used many types of video software to perform group chats and there did not seem to be a stand out among them.  Google+ could be the solution.  My only question – is this important to others?  I would only use this for work and professional reasons.  There might be value for the average user, I’m just not sure.

Media

The integration of media on Google+ is very appealing, more so than Facebook.  Photos are large and captivating when they come through your stream.   Location check-in visuals also add to updates and are not an afterthought.

 

Even the close-up view of an image is appealing.  To enhance an image comments are shown off to the side and the rest of the site is grayed out.

Mobile

As you will read below, I wasn’t able to create a hands-on test of the mobile app, but talked to many team members who gave it great reviews.  The highlights  include: the location based options tie directly into Latitude, the photo functionality works seamlessly, and that huddles were great for communication.

 

Integration

One of the main features of Google+ is the ability to tie multiple Google products to one location.  Google+ ties in seamlessly with Latitude, chat, +1, Chrome, Google Profiles, new Google page designs, Google One Bar, Gmail and Android.  Here’s an example of a seamless check-in:

Google+ works well with all of these, if  your settings are tuned properly.

Mute

 

When a user adds a comment to a + post you have commented on, it is brought back to the top of your stream.  However, Google gives you the option of ‘muting’ a conversation if you don’t want to view it any longer.  This is a great feature, even though when I muted a conversation on Google+, it did not stop Google from sending me status updates via email for every additional comment.

Gmail Notifications

Notifications can be some of the most annoying and confusing elements of social sites, but if you are using Google+ and Gmail, it won’t be.  Profile pictures are seamlessly tied in and you almost feel you are on a website instead of in your inbox.  Here is how the responses to Danny’s initial + post looked in my inbox:

 

The Bad

Complexity

As soon as you log-in, you can tell that some brilliant people created this site.  However, in my opinion, the UI is too complicated for the average social user.  There are too many options and different features for someone who is trying to simply post up information.  This is something that Facebook and Twitter excel at – making hard things simple.

To make a post a user must find connections to add to circles, add suggestions and friends to circles, and update content to specific people by choosing circles (which can include ‘your circles,’ or ‘extended circles’).

There are just a lot of options for people and it will take a good deal of getting used to for the non tech-savvy user.  After playing with it in-depth for a day, I now like the communication elements, but those who come in to kick the tires may find it too difficult.

 

Accounts/Profiles

One thing that may severely hold back adoption of Google+ is account and profile issues that arise with the service.   To even sign up with Google+ you must pre-qualify by having a Google Profile.  This may be common in the Googleplex, but isn’t so much for average users.  You cannot sign up with an email address that does not have a profile attached, and changing Google profile email addresses isn’t easy.  There was also some buzz about Google App Accounts not working with Google+, but I had no issues signing up as everything went smooth (I had a Google Profile on my Google App Email Address).

I have never been a fan of Google accounts due to the fragmentation of  accounts across the various Google services, and I was burned again with account issues.   When I bought an Android phone a few years back, I signed up with my email address at that time.  Since then, I have set up a professional account that I use with my Google Profile.  This does not bode well with Google+.  To use the Google+ app you cannot login with any Google account tied to your phone, you must register with the Android account used when setting up the phone.   This means no Google+ app for me unless I do a factory settings restore on my phone.    As a user – this would be a total dealbreaker for me continuing to use the Google+ service.

Other members at Search Engine Land were also having issues with various accounts and the inability to log-in due to various problems that occur when you have more than one Google Account.  Will this be a problem for the average user?  Probably not.  It sure is annoying. To get Google+ working properly you must nail every step in the process perfectly in order to get Google+ working properly.

People & Circles

In Google+ you can assign users to multiple circles.  This is a nice feature, but again can be very confusing.  Google+ recommends you add users to circles even if they have been assigned a circle.  If a user has multiple email addresses, it can get quite confusing.  Many times Google+ recommends people already in circles or recommends user follow themselves (again, due to email issues).

Launch

Google is really good at launching algorithm updates, page enhancements and other items that don’t require mass adoption.  However, Google product launches around items that need adoption are pathetic.  From Google Wave to Google Buzz to Google Music, Google does a horrible job of striking while the iron is hot; instead killing the interest and attention of potential users.

I believe that much of the success of Google+ will be how fast it can become available to users.  Giving users access invite-by-invite to a social platform is not the way to launch a social network.  Social networks survive on interactions, and interactions occur from like-minded people and friends collaborating together.  Limited invite-by-invite access will not spur this behavior, period.

Sparks

Sparks, the news element of the Google+ service, leaves a lot to be desired in the current state.  Instead of some type of news customization, you pick from a channel, or search to make a channel of your own.  I expect this to drastically change in the near future to be much more similar to a LinkedIn Today, but there is no benefit to use this today.

Chat

While the ‘huddles’ are a sexy form of mobile communication, web users are stuck with regular old Google Talk for chat.  You cannot chat with your fellow Google+ers, rather only can communicate with those already connected to your email address.   It is an eyesore for a well-designed site and seems like a band-aid communication feature.  In order to chat with friends, you must enable certain circles within your settings.

 

The Ugly

The Product Name & Element Names

As Danny mentioned the name Google+ is not great.  The naming convention inside the service  isn’t much better either.  Instead of a ‘like’, users give a post a +1.  The number of +1’s is listed with each post in the form of +#.  So if seven people liked a post, it would show as +7.  But when one person likes a post, it is just confusing:

I apologize for this next sentence in advance, but there is no better way to state it.  From what I have seen so far, every Google+ post that is ‘+1ed’ on Google+ does not show up in your Google +1′s off of Google+.  That is a lot to say. Basically, the +1 button on Google+ doesn’t act the same as the +1 button in the SERPs, which is very strange and confusing.

Other element names are also confusing. Google talk is shown under the chat on the left navigation, but ‘hangouts’ aren’t near the chat section of the navigation – and ‘huddles’ are nowhere to be found on the web. News is also called a ‘spark’ while groups are ‘circles.’  That is too much for the basic user just looking to communicate.

No other Tie-Ins

One nice feature of services such as LinkedIn is you can tie other accounts, like Twitter, into your profile.  Google+ does not offer this yet.  If you are going to use Google+, it will be as a standalone platform in its current state.  The closest you can get to adding other accounts is by adding links in your Google Profile.

 

The Pretty?

I added this section solely to make a point to let people know just how good Google+ looks in comparison to previous Google products.  Google+ is very slick and  has a ton of visual eye candy inside.  Images look awesome when posted.  The black ‘Google One Bar’ is very appealing, and some of the JavaScript elements are jaw dropping:

YouTube Preview Image

Google did a great job in the design of Google+ which is why it drives me crazy to see ugly legacy items like Google Talk disrupt the stunning visuals.

 

The Verdict

Google+ is a great platform for those looking to break away from their current social networks.  The real question is – how many people are looking to break away from their social networks?  I can see avid tech users adopting Google+, but I don’t think this is a replacement to Facebook by  any means.  There is not much real value switching to Google+ for an average Facebook user, unless you are concerned about privacy or have a hankering for video group chats.   The complexity will also turn away many users.  If industry professionals have questions on how Google+ works, the public will as well.

However, I believe that Google+ has a few different spaces that it could thrive:

  • A LinkedIn/Facebook Hybrid For Professionals

I can see Google+ acting as a vehicle for like-minded professionals to communicate freely, utilize hangouts and share information.  The circles feature would make categorization easy for professionals. The ability to follow others on Google+ is more effective than a Twitter or Facebook list.

  • An Internal Company Intranet

While this is no way what Google intended for Google+, the entire time that I was playing with the service I was thinking how phenomenal this would be as an addition to Google Apps for large corporations.  The different circles would be perfect for different departments and video chat would be great for the growing working from home community.

Overall, I liked the product and the implementation, but I am not really sure what people will use it for (not generally a good sign for a new product launch).  What may really make-or-break the success of Google+ is how fast they can roll out to the public and if they can make the service appear less daunting to the average user.   All in all, this is the best social product put out by Google to date, but probably not enough to convert existing social users away from their current service.

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Related Topics: Channel: Social | Features: Analysis | Google: Google+ | Top News

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About The Author: is the Chief Marketing Officer for Cypress North, a company that specializes in social media and search marketing services and web-based application development. He has been in the Internet marketing industry for 6+ years and specializes in Social Media Marketing. You can also find Greg on Twitter (@gregfinn) or LinkedIn.

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  • http://www.concept-i.dk/ Thomas Rosenstand

    Great first “review”! It really puzzles me why Google again and again chose to launch in a way designated to kill the buzz even before it takes off. Seems to me they have not learned anything from the failures of Wave and Buzz.

  • http://facebook.com/abhi.budhiraja Abhinav Budhiraja

    “I believe that much of the success of Google+ will be how fast it can become available to users. Giving users access invite-by-invite to a social platform is not the way to launch a social network. Social networks survive on interactions, and interactions occur from like-minded people and friends collaborating together. Limited invite-by-invite access will not spur this behavior, period.”

    Very well said…

  • Greg Finn

    Thanks Sandeep. I can assure you that I am not a Facebook employee, and I actually like +. Not as a replacement for Facebook, but as a professional network as I mentioned in the article.

  • kevint

    Really? Have you not seen the social network? Yes Google has had failures in the past with buzz and wave, but obviously you do not want to just open up the doors to a social network when your in a test phase and working out bugs. My point is that i am pretty sure that facebook started as a social network for colleges and was by invite only. That gave them the time to work on bugs and add new features. Secondly, facebook didnt become the new king for quite some time, myspace was in its prime and facebook was for college students. AS for integration into search, it will get there, be patient. As for features and ease of use that you would like to see. Be patient. I mean after all these people are geniuses, and ease of use doesnt become apparent until people start saying something. Where Google truly shines is in its integration and unique design of all it products, it definitely is offering something facebook does not. The one recommendation that i would make to Google is to not abandon ship on this one, the framework is all there, social networks are like fads, they come and go. Facebook is a great application, but its time at the helm is limited. Google has the ability to intergrate all of the tools at its disposal into one platform. And they have search, if they could integrate tabs to switch between just web search, and search related within their social network, like people search or buisness search, i would shut down my facebook account right now, because to have web search and social search in one applicaton would stop my need of having to go to google to find anything anyways. Point is, Google is not going to come out even keel with facebook, by technical aspects because it was just launched, The test will be if Google puts the time and effort into really building Google+ and letting it speak for itself.

  • Greg Finn

    kevint,

    My point is, that Google does a terrible job at launching social products. They always have. If you can’t allow people to sign up publicly, don’t make it a very public launch with slick videos, blog posts and the sort. I do think that their launch of other products really hurt, and if people can’t get into Google+ within a few weeks, nobody is going to care.

    In regards to your other options, as a professional user heavy into tech, I agree. Google+ is nice. But what about the average casual user? They really don’t care about privacy and Facebook’s stance as long as they can easily lock down their profile from the public. They won’t shut their Facebook account down right now, because they can’t search from their social area. They just wont;. That is why at the end I mentioned that I think it is an AWESOME Facebook/LinkedIn hybrid. I think that is the sweet-spot at the moment – professionals.

  • Chris Meacher

    Considering how technically in depth it seems, and all the malarky it seems you have to go through to get signed up ( google profile etc ) I dont think the general public will take to it like they did with Facebook. Integration of all Google products may be unique and clever, but how many regular users who dont see Google like we do care and want to make sure they have a gmail account and a Google profile attached to it before they can even think about signing up to a new social network?

    This to me seems like a rival to Linkedin more than Facebook, although I know you technically savvy types may disagree, but most of you will be thinking about what Facebook is now, not what it was, the general public dont care or at the least think about marketing strategies and the like.

    I and probably many millions more didn’t know about Facebook in its earliest days, which is why Google have a lot of work ahead of them with thousands if not millions of ‘experts’ with their own opinions on everything watching them. All the pressure is on Google to make this work, something I find a bit silly, because personally after years of social networks, im frankly sick of them and may not sign up for another one, not on a personal level anyway ( smart ar**s will pick up on this no doubt ).

    Myspace died because it became extremely slow and buggy due to neglect by the owners, Facebook will only die off if the owners decide to do the same, which I can’t see happening.

    Time will only tell, but reading this review and some of the complexities around signing up for Google+ ( maybe this will change but again, see the beginning of the paragraph ) will no doubt put the ( with all due respect ) average Joe off, which this world mainly consists of.

    A very interesting read, thanks.

  • http://www.adamtudor.com Adam Tudor

    A great breakdown of the product, but it’s sad to hear about persistent account issues, which always seem to be the weak point in many Google products.

    I think having a Google account may be where this will fall down outside of the tech world & Gmail users. It really needs to offer something ‘wow’ to get mainstream interest and get people to even think about moving from Facebook. With all the Google product jargon and the unfamiliar layout, it may just put people off – or they may try it or see a friend using it and be put off.

    I think the big G needs to be really careful about product releases – if they release things too early people will try it once and never go back, no matter if they add lots of functionality further down the line. People have so many apps, websites and products fighting to be heard and I don’t think they are prepared to persist too long with something if it’s too much like hard work.

  • http://www.brianfosse.com brianfosse

    I think that this is particularly interesting in light of an Ad Age article posted just prior to Google+ – http://t.co/J3EdGRy . It basically says that Microsoft teamed up with Facebook poses a huge threat to Google via social search. If you agree, the question is which can gain users faster, Google+ or Bing social search?

  • http://integrati.com.au I.M.

    Firstly, excellent write up, loved the detail and I feel you were very objective.

    I think this is very early to say that they won’t be a competitor to Facebook. They were told to get into social an I see this as the thin edge of the wedge which the Founders at Google will be driving hard.

    I 1000% agree with you about the Google Accounts and Google Contact management. I was hoping that they would ‘tie’ all of this together.

    How ironic that Google clearly now has ‘legacy’ system issues with Google Accounts scattered far and wide but is struggling to put it ‘all’ in one pot.

    If they crack that nut they will be away… UX first, driven with simple form and function.

    Good on them I like the first pass let’s hope we see many more releases, improvements and updates.

  • http://www.decorating-country-home.com Chick French

    …so where’s Google’s GameLand…the juvenile gamer’s won’t be quick to desert their farm plantations and gangster wars…Google Plus is just too grownup for these types. Google’s developer’s better get busy on game apps if they seriously expect to cater to juvenile mentality.

    I say this jokingly, but I’m dead serious. The games are the addiction on FB!

  • http://www.enovabiz.in E.B.

    I have not yet used Google+ but have a feeling that with such a huge Google email user base, it has good chances of becoming popular. But profiles/account restrictions can be very disappointing. What if Google+ turns out to be too complex with so many features and integration?

    But what stops Facebook from making its privacy and other features at par with Google+. With so many people already familiar with FB and with emotional & business connect, not many will be too inclined join the new bandwagon as of now.

  • http://www.sonomacountyweb.com S.C.

    Hello Greg,
    Excellent overview of the product.
    It appears that Google is allowing connectivity with other services.
    Go to the “Options” drop-down next to the Share button at the upper-right, then look
    in the subnav to the left, for the “Connected Accounts” button. Unless I am mistaken, it appears
    you can connect other services (e.g. Twitter, FB, LinkeIn, etc.).

  • Greg Finn

    S.C.,

    You are correct, you can connect your account. However, the most connectivity that Google+ offers is a link in your Google Profile over to that account. It isn’t like Buzz or LinkedIn where you can tie a Twitter account in to push out Tweets.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.antezeta.com/blog/ Sean Carlos

    Profiles are not officially available for email addresses associated with Google Apps, as noted in this Google chart: http://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?answer=181865&hl=en

    I assume that exceptions may exist for users who created Google profiles before their domain migrated to Google Apps?

  • sethdanielwatson

    Great article and really does a great job balancing the good and the bad with the product. I’d probably put a bit more emphasis on the complexity issues.

    For the average user, I think this is much too convoluted. In particular, I think the +1 element and the commenting/posting capability are overly complex (on comments, as a threshold matter–once a user has commented its easy, but before that, not so much).

    Strikes me that in order for a product/service to be successful it needs to do one of the following:

    1. Meet a need that is not currently being met (or, alternatively, fill a previously unknown need); OR
    2. Meet a currently satisfied need in a SPECTACULARLY improved way. –Keep in mind, improved generally means, in our culture, EASIER for us…

    Some examples:
    1. Electric can openers, not manual ones
    2. Hondas and Toyotas, not Buicks and Chevys
    3. i-Phones over Blackberris, Blackberries over Nextels, Nextels over push-button phones, push-button phones over dial-ups
    4. Grocery stores over farms and butchering our own hogs and goats
    5. Electric alarm clocks, not wind-ups (or Roosters)
    6. Hi-Def, not tube, color, not black and white
    7. McDonalds, not cooking at home

    While not all of these are *improvements* in the true sense, they all represent meeting a need in an improved way from the standpoint of the broader culture.

    Google+ is not meeting *either* of the two possible ways outlined above. It offers nothing that FB does not currently do–and does better. It fills no “gap”. Circles? Got those, called “lists”. +1? Got that. Its “like” and, in a significant edge, “share”. Plus its vastly more intuitive and easier to post and comment on friends’ pages. Since much of what we want as human beings is communication and connection, its particularly of import that Google+ makes it challenging to comment/post.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2U53G2XBOBCIQINRKB6O4R7A4Y Me Again

    I like G+, except for the fact that you cannot write comments on people’s walls, like you do on Fb, so then I thought “ok, then you’ll send a private message” but they show up on your “home” so if you are scrolling up or down to show someone some pictures of someone, for example, they could read that “private” message. They should, like it happens on Fb, go to a “message folder” or something like that.
    Another thing I like a lot is the privacy =)

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