Feature Articles

The Google+ Experiment

The Google+ Experiment



Getting to Know Google+

Getting to Know Google+

Google+ might seem to be a Facebook clone from the first glance. In truth, that does work to Google+'s advantage, given how it's trying to lure Facebook users onto its network. With a similar user interface, the learning curve is much gentler, leaving us with more time to experience the main features of Google+. To understand Google+, there's a few key features that needs to be explored.
 

Notifications

Much like what you have on Facebook, notifications is as the name suggests - to notify you of incoming comments and +1s to your posts. With the launch of Google+, the +1 feature is making much more sense than ever, acting as the counterpart to Facebook's "Like".

What makes Google+'s notifications much better is how it keeps you on the same page. Clicking on the notifications field opens up a window within the Google+ page, and recent notifications are listed in chronological order. More importantly, the notification page allows one to reply to comments on that particular posting from within.

In fact, as we experimented with Google+ from our desktops, we realized how insanely addictive it can get. Once your followers have reached a decent number, notifications will be flowing in quite often. Given how some of us are constantly checking emails, it's a shrewd move by Google to include the notifications within your Gmail page. Moreover, you can reply to notifications right from your Gmail page, thus keeping you away from your main Google+ Stream, which you can check occasionally. In some ways, this doesn't pull you away from what really matters - work emails, while keeping you updated on the latest happenings that are relevant to you.
 

Circles

Circles. It's the feature that really matters to those who are frustrated with the privacy settings from Facebook. As its name suggests, Circles is a way to assign specific people under your contact list into a neat group. The real draw is in allowing users to separate their postings according to the people they wish the update to be associated with. As such, within your Google account, you can essentially separate your personal updates to friends and family, keeping sensitive matters away from the public.

This is also a blessing in disguise for those who are overly swamped with news updates from feeds that are not filtered. What Circles does is to allow users to post selectively, thus limiting the flood of updates to friends who won't be able to relate to that particular post. With Google+, your first action requires you to define who sees your posts, thus starting you on the filtering very early into the experience.

While this is a great way to segregate your thoughts to those who matter, and keeping the feed clean for others, this also creates another dilemma - how does one define their Circles? For some, privacy is not an issue, and updates are posted publicly with a dash of self-moderation added in. Yet, if you are a stickler for filtering, it might take a while to sort out the list according to your social circles, which might or might not be a subset of the other.


Stream

Stream is where the main action is. And before anyone says it, let us be the first to declare it - Stream looks no different from the Facebook home page. In one page, Stream lists the latest updates from people who have posted publicly or included you, be it personally or through their Circles.

As the main point of interaction, you will be posting your comments and sharing links, videos or photos through Stream. Thanks to its similarity to Facebook's layout, it didn't take us long to get the hang of it. And before we knew it, we were replying to comments and uploading photos. Unlike Facebook, Google+ allows you to geotag your location straight from the posting entry, be it from the desktop or mobile app.

Adding multimedia elements to the Stream might seem to be a standard affair, but Google+ ups the ante by introducing a drag-and-drop method. As such, you can simply grab links from the web or images and videos off your hard disk, drag and dump it into the Stream entry field to invoke the upload process and share it with your Circles

As mentioned earlier, Circles acts as the filter for your news feed. As such, the Stream page gives you the option to either send your posting out as Public, or limited to Circles as defined by you. You can also add multiple Circles and add on individuals who might not fall under those specific Circles. Unfortunately, this also implies a heavy level of micromanagement to keep your posts limited to a select group.


Sparks

As we've explained earlier, Google+ is built around the company's existing strength - search. As such, it's no surprise to see a specific section designed to search and share links that matter to its users. Sparks fulfills that very role, acting as a news feed for you to sift through. And if you do find something of interest, the option to share that link is made easy with the Share button.

But like all features, we always bring up the "buyers beware" clause. While it integrates Google's search features seamlessly with the social network, it's all about moderation. Managing your Sparks feed is crucial to keep your Google+ account as clean as possible.


Hangouts and Huddle

Hangout creates a space for fellow Google+ users to, well, hang out. Building upon Google's Gtalk video chat feature, Hangout essentially creates a chat room for people you've added into it, allowing participants to join in at any time.

For mobile users, specifically those who have gotten their hands on the Google+ Android app, you won't find Hangout. Instead, a text-based chat known as Huddle is prominently displayed on the starting page. Think of it as an easier way to organize a group chat via Google Talk. Instead of adding contacts one by one, you can harness the grouping within Circles to initiate a group chat with your fellow Google+ users.

What's the practicality of these two features? We feel that Hangouts and Huddle are just added in for the sake of utilizing Google's chat services. While we won't be seeing much use out of it, this is a subjective matter, depending on how one uses their Google account for their personal communication purposes. Furthermore, with Skype and Facebook teaming up to integrate their services together, it will undeniably have an impact on how Google+ users see Hangouts and Huddle in the near future.