CNET First Look
Google's Facebook killer, Google+Rafe Needleman looks into Google's latest social experiment, Google+, and how it's better--and worse--than Facebook.
Rafe Needleman with a first look of Google+, Google's Facebook killer. Well, npt really. Google+ is the search giant's latest major social networking play and it's the first product that may eventually just give other social networks including Facebook and Twitter and run for the money. Google has learned a lot from the problems that affected earlier experiments like Orchid, Google Buzz, and Google Wave. They key social concept of Google+ is the circle. You can create circles for the different parts of your life, your work, your family, your friends, your hobbies, and it's easy to drag people into circles and then to create updates that just go to particular circles or to all of them at once, and then the key cue from getting overwhelmed by all your contacts and social updates, you can watch just what's happening in particular circles by using streams. So, if you're on the mood to see what's going on with your family, you just check out your family stream. The ease with which you can shift in and out of circle send updates to one or some or all of them is Google+'s big differentiator from both Facebook and Twitter. Now, Facebook in particular also lets you send updates to particular groups, but in plus, the whole setup is around carefully directing updates to particular groups. It doesn't feel like an afterthought like it does in Facebook. Google+ also has a very strong video conferencing feature called hang out. You can create a video room and then invite your friends from some or all of your circles plus displays everyone's webcam image at the bottom of the window and automatically shows a bigger video and whomever is talking. It's a seamless and very powerful video experience. We tried it here and we were up and running and having a natural conversation in moments. Plus also makes it really easy to share photos. It connects to Picasa Web Albums for instant sharing, you can easily drag pictures from your computer into your stream to share with your circles, and if you're mobile, there's a good mobile web version of plus. It has some features that you don't get in the big web version like location based check in and the ability to see stream updates from the friends that are closes to you, but I can access the video hangout features. Android users also get an app and iPhone users will get the app later. All is not perfect in Plus land though. Adding people to your circles can be time consuming and little confusing especially if you're used to the more monolithic social systems of Facebook or Twitter. It's not clear for example if you add someone to a circle if you're also added to one of theirs. Also integration with other Google services is so far incomplete. For example, if you have a lot of contacts and say Google voice, you might see all of those people in Google+, but not the categories or circles that you filed them under, and if you send a direct message to a user from Plus through the e-mail feature and they e-mailed you back, it's shows up in your G-Mail viewer, not on Plus. Plus is big on privacy and data ownership though, which is a big plus. The whole idea of segregating your updates into circles makes it much easier in theory to control who sees what of the things you post. Google is also pushing Plus' take out feature that lets you export all the information on plus to own computer for use however you want. Facebook finally has this two, but that was a very longtime coming. If want to get into to Plus, hit up your friends. There is big demand from people who tried this service and people are in it have been sending out a lot of invitations. Google is only letting those invitations out in small batches for the time being but they should start flowing again soon. It is unlikely that Google+ will unseat Facebook as the number one social network, but it is a worthy additional social service. If you're not already overwhelmed by having to manage your connections on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere, it's really worth to try when you can get in. I'm Rafe Needleman for CNET.