Google+ Creates A Frenzy on Launch Day
While a social network from Google has been rumored many times over the past year, the launch of Google+ came as a surprise to almost everyone. A select few journalists had seen a sneak peak last week, but today the service was rolled out to invited users only as a "field test." Luckily, we snagged an invite and took the service and the Android app for a spin. And we found one feature you'll love on the website and two that will make your experience on Android much, much better.
You may have heard about Google+ and there are comprehensive reviews of every feature all over the internet. But, let's break down the basics. This is Google's attempt to compete with Facebook and Twitter, with a few unique features and benefits. For one, unlike Facebook which co-owns the copyright to the data you share, Google leaves ownership in your hands. It's your data and with that mentality they have already created a way for you to completely back-up your data with a service called Google Takeout.
On Google+, organizing your social circles has never been easier. In a beautifully designed UI, Google creates a few default circles where you can drag your friends into, immediately creating separate groups you can share with. You can still share publicly if you'd like, but you also have the option of sending an update to your college friends and a separate update to your family. And in a combination of Twitter and Facebook, you can both follow celebrities and people you admire, and befriend them if it's a mutual relationship. It can be complicated to understand how it all works, but it becomes quite a powerful tool if it catches on. And, for those who haven't joined in the fun, pictures and posts can be shared with them via email. So, while they can't comment on a photo, they would receive it if you shared it with them.
But, what really stands out, especially with so few people who have access to Google+, are hangouts and huddles. Google Hangouts are group video chats that let anyone you invite join in a conversation at any time. Vic Gundotra, the Googler who headed the Google+ project, likened it to a gathering in a public place. If your friends were hanging out at a bar, you could easily join in. The video chat works the same way. Once it's started and shared with a group of friends, any of those friends can hop in and see the video chat and participate. The only limit is the maximum of 10 people at a time. Amazingly, Google has included an automatic camera switcher, which focuses the main video feed on the person who is talking. It's incredible to see happen and makes the conversation flow a lot better. There's also some collaboration, though limited at the moment, built in. The group can watch YouTube videos together while anyone can fast forward to bits that are interesting. You can get a better feel for it with the video below, but you can't truly understand its appeal until you're able to try it out.
On the mobile side, Google launched an Android app (and an update!) on day one. It's incredibly slick and provides all the features of Google+, with the glaring exception of the aforementioned Hangouts video chat. What it does offer instead is a group chat feature called Huddle. It allows you to pick one or more of your circles and group chat with them. The beauty of this feature is that if people aren't on Google+, they can interact with the group using regular old SMS. This means there is no barrier to entry, but added value to anyone who is using the service.
Here's the killer feature for every Android user. Photos in the cloud. Yes, with Google+ and its Instant Upload feature on the Android app, there is now a built-in method to store every picture and video you take with your Android device in the cloud. It resides in your Picasa album and is completely private. But, impressively, when you go to Google+ and want to share a picture from last night, your recently uploaded photos are front and centre, waiting for you to share them. This basically gives you unlimited photo storage on Picasa, which is in itself a reason to join the service.
It's only the first day and already there's something incredibly compelling about Google+. At the moment, the calibre of conversation is at a very high level, partly due to the limited community that has access to the service. But, it’s fun to use, and there are things you can do with Google+ that you just can’t do anywhere else. And Google suggests this is just the beginning. If that’s the case, you’ll want to be along for the ride.