After scouring the Internet for a way to get into Google+, I finally connected with a friend I met at the Google I/O conference in May and he sent me an invite. I logged in, set up my profile, and started tinkering.
One of the first things I tried out was the Hangout feature. The idea is that you let people know you’re “hanging out” and wouldn’t mind joining in a group conversation with web cams. At one point I had four people in a hangout (the limit is 10) and we could all see each and hear each other just fine. And when someone was talking, the video on my screen would enlarge their video. I’ll admit–this was my first group video chat online. And it was really cool.
Next I checked out Sparks. It’s less prevalent than some of the other features, but from what I can tell so far, it’ll be a great feature. You can add topics of interest and then click on them at any time to see the latest news surround that topic. When I searched for “tennis” as a topic, it suggested “tennis wimbledon 2011” and showed a bunch of news articles about Federer’s loss to Tsonga.
Circles are brilliant. The idea of being able to categorize your contacts into easily manageable groups and then share content with just those groups is something Facebook was never quite able to master. I think the Circles feature will be what really drives the success for Google Plus.
Another really great thing is the new black bar at the top. When I’m viewing other Google products, the black bar is there and shows me a notification count as people share things, respond to my comments, or do anything else notification-worthy. It’s a simple but great way to integrate the social aspect of the web into every day tasks online.
The mobile app is great, too. Now you can take pictures and have them privately uploaded to Picasa, where you can decide if you’d like to make them public for others to see. I’ve been waiting for an auto-upload feature for a while now, and this is it.
So far I love it. Given enough time and enough friends who join, I would gladly get rid of Facebook and move over to Google Plus exclusively. Now someone needs to figure out an easy way to get pictures out of Facebook and into Picasa so I can pick up my Google Plus social life where I left off on Facebook.