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Initial Impressions of Google+

Technology
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
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I was able to get a Google+ invite late last week and gave the new social network a run over the weekend. Now, a couple days later, I'm finding myself ignoring it. There are a lot of interesting ideas in it, but that is its main problem; there are a lot of pieces that have a lot of potential, but the whole doesn't do anything better than it's main competitor. In fact, it seems to go out of it's way to make it more cumbersome in many places.

Lots of what we see already exist in their own bubbles, have their own branding, and use their own user profiles. Only the over-arcing google login really kept them associated in any way; each app was bought and/or developed with little worry about how it would actually work with the other apps until later in their individual lifecycle. It took months for Youtube and Google logins to be merged, Wave was Gmail and Gchat and Buzz mashed together, Analytics was still using the term "urchin" in their supplied javascript code for years. Hell, depending on which apps you were using regularly, you had two or three completely different "google profiles".

Google+ is, basically, a variety of separate Google apps and products finally pulled together under a core umbrella. Even though there is a strong design and focus behind it, it still has that frankenstein bolted-together feel to it.

My Google Plus Profile

One of the obvious elements of this pasted-together development is on what used to be Google Profiles, the Google+ public profile page. There, by default, are the new "posts" and off to the right is the much-ignored "buzz", which is Google Buzz. Aren't these two things almost the same thing? Why didn't Google Buzz inherit the rest of what eventually became the "post" functionality? And how much of the "photos" tab is just half-cribbed Picasa (soon to be Google Photos) functionality?

I probably wouldn't find the whole thing so cumbersome if the core of this social network, the facebook-y parts, didn't try so damn hard to out-facebook facebook. 

My Google Plus Circles

The idea of circles is pretty good on paper, but the execution comes across as something designed by a person who only used it as it developed. I came from facebook, and though I can see they were trying to make the transition from a single pile of friends to infinite number of overlapping groups, they only succeeded in making a novel idea annoying.

The rotary-dial grouping for drag-and-drop is one of the too-clever ideas that works best in a photoshop mock-up than in actual practice... probably one of the reasons why this metaphor is not used anywhere else in any app; they just default to text lists everywhere else. Also, the little rectangle profile cards had a troublesome problem with being recursive, where hovering on a name within them would open another rectangle, which had links that would open other rectangles, three or four deep.

The hovering rectangle issue seems to have been resolved since last week, thankfully. This implies that it is one Google app that actually deserves the "beta" label, even though it's the first in memory that lacks it. Or won't be wearing it for four or five years.

My Google Plus Stream

Despite all this, I'm absolutely certain Google+ is going to be successful. First of all, there's several people who will jump on it simply because "it's not facebook". It's gotten to the point where hating trends and/or fads has become a trendy fad in and of itself.

Second, there are going to be people who want a social network that lets them be less social than twitter or facebook... now you can group people in cliques and make sure the right people never see that other group you hang out with. 

Finally, that heavy promotion of the +1 button means search engine opimization experts the world-wide-web over will be pushing all things Google on their clients. Where web apps like Twitter became popular due to a focused and vibrant community that grew, Google+ will be rammed down our throats by a combination of Google corralling all their free apps into it and SEO advice being laid on thick, bribing site developers and owners to support it in return for better ranking.

I'll probably keep poking at it over the next couple weeks simply because it does have so much potential in it's parts. But until the whole starts doing things as well as or better than Facebook, I'm having a hard time justifying bothering maintaining both... and facebook was here first.

After all, remember Orkut?