I’ve been using Google+ for a little less than a week, and I’m a convert. In fact, it took less than a day to convince me to make it my home base for social networking/meme broadcasting. It’s not that it’s so much better than services such as Facebook or Twitter, it’s that it does all the things they do and then some. It’s far more flexible than anything else out there.
In many ways it’s similar to the Facebook you love and loathe. It’s got a wall where you can see the posts of the people you follow, although Google calls it a stream. It has integrated photo albums, thanks to Google’s photo storage service Picasa. It has a video conferencing feature called Hangouts, which is both useful and fun (you can connect with people for a reason, or you can just open up your video channel and wait to see who drops in for a chat).
And it’s similar to Twitter. You can follow people who post interesting material without them having to go through that awkward friend request approval/denial feature of Facebook. And Google+’s Circles feature is more like Twitter’s lists than Facebook’s seldom-used equivalent, although it has elements of both.
But the flexibility is what sets + apart. Thanks to Circles, you can view people you follow selectively, in the same way you view Twitter lists. Because that stream will drown you, or at least your productivity, if you don’t filter it. You can also push messages out to those groups selectively, much like Facebook’s rarely-used Lists feature. Sure, you have to think about your posts a couple of seconds more – “Who is this going out to?” – but it’s worth it for the ability to tailor messages to groups of people and not barrage others with life spam. It’s made a lot easier by + forcing you to add people into at least one circle when you follow them. At first this seemed like an annoyance – “I’ll just do it later give me friends now!” – but it’s actually a smart feature that stops you from being overwhelmed by your friends lists. Er, circles.
And then there’s the integration factor. So Google+ combines the core features of Facebook and Twitter and improves on them. It’s also got Picasa, which is now bound to draw people away from Flickr. Its Places feature on posts, which I imagine comes from Latitude, will likely be developed to attract the same merchant interest as Facebook’s Places and Foursquare – and Google’s interest in Groupon a while back suddenly becomes a lot more understandable. Had they succeeded in that bid, they would have had a giant retail network already built into Google+. But they’re creating their own version of Groupon instead, which will likely be paired with Google Wallet, so you can make purchases without ever having to leave your + page. And you can bet you’ll be seeing closer integration with Google’s other products, such as Gmail, Reader, YouTube and Blogger. Consider also the fact that every Google page you access will have the Google personal toolbar on the top now, so your + account, with all its features, is just always there, part of your online experience.
It will be impossible for new social startups to compete with +, in the same way that it’s proven nearly impossible to compete with Google in the search game. We’ll probably see developers direct their efforts toward apps instead – and I do expect Google to open up + to apps in the future, just like they have with their Chrome store.
Twitter’s probably dead in the long run, especially once Google adds hash tags functionality and more people embrace smart phones and tablets, thus doing away with the need for character limits in posts, if there ever was such a need. Twitter just has too far to go to achieve the same features as +, and its executives have repeatedly shown they just don’t have that kind of long-term vision.
Facebook will be OK for a while, given that it has 700 million or so users, and is deeply integrated with so many other parts of the web, but it’ll be in trouble if it doesn’t radically reinvent itself to achieve the same flexibility as +. And it’ll have to do it quickly, as so many people just plainly hate Facebook. If Google can hit a critical mass quick enough with +, Facebook could be the next Myspace in a few years.
Google+ could even cut into the market share of blogging services such as WordPress and Tumblr if the redesign of Blogger and its integration with + is good enough.
Not bad for a service that’s only a few weeks old.
Can’t think of a reason to switch to Google+? I can’t think of a reason not to switch to Google+.
If you do come over, add me to a circle.