Saturday, April 14, 2012
Why Google+ is the most elegant social network

Google+ reworked its interface this week, unveiling a cleaner look and adding some new features. It also created some controversial white space.

Google’s attempt at adding real-time and social data to its unquenchable thirst for information has been described by many – me included – as a cynical move and one that won’t catch on.

But to quote Robert Scoble, long-time social media legend and Google+ advocate:
You all are invited to a little party I'm throwing on Monday night. I'll be in the corner with the other Google+ advocates. Oh, wait, there's 170 million of you? Shhhh, don't tell the press. They think this place is a ghost town.
And once you look at it closely, those heralding Google+ as a game-changer might be right. I’ve been sporadically using the service since it launched, and the bones of an incredible social network are there. You want reasons? Here are three:

1. Circles

There are so many social networks out there, I’m using at least five every day with different sets of parameters for who can be my connections in each one. These people tend to overlap (my family are on Path and Facebook, my colleagues on Facebook and Instagram, my clients on LinkedIn and Twitter, and so on). I end up sending multiple messages to the same people, or having to use multiple services to reach the right group (I even created an iPhone app to help me stop having to do that). Even worse, I end up sharing something that isn’t appropriate with one set of contacts. Circles is an elegant solution to managing that problem.

2. Instant upload

You can set Google+ to automatically save photos from your phone to a private or public album. Apple has tried to do this with Photo Stream, but anyone who has tried to use it quickly realized that Apple had to invent a tenth circle of Hell devoted to people who once took an embarrassing photo and are then doomed to reside there, forever trying to delete it then watching it come back until they're forced scoop out their own eyeballs. Once again, Google+ provides a simple and elegant solution to transfer images from a phone to the web (but not quite as surprising as Bump's).

3. Hangouts

Admission: I’ve never used Hangouts. But the idea is wonderful. If every single person who pops up in my Google Chat window as being online was a friend or family member and not someone I haven’t spoken to in years, I’d be a regular user. No separate application to install, no separate contacts list, and fully integrated into a network you’re already using. Facebook tried this, but it’s nowhere near as slick, and the way the camera shifts to the speaker in Hangouts (like in proper office-based videoconferencing) looks wonderfully elegant.

I’m sure there are many more good things about Google+, but these are three things that I think are particularly special. I’m going to hang out there more often to see if it really could become a useful tool – feel free to add me to an appropriately-named circle. The fact that you’re reading this probably means you’re already in my ‘PR Geeks’ one.

Now I just need to get over the fact that Google knows what I’m reading, where I am, who I’m saying things to, what I look like, and what I’m thinking. It’s lucky it does all of the above in such an elegant way, otherwise this would all be a bit frightening…