For the past week, I’ve been playing around with Google+, a new social networking service that competes with both Facebook and Google. The service is in test mode at the moment, but will soon be available to the general public.
This isn’t Google’s first attempt at social networking. Its Orkut social networking service is popular in Brazil but not in many other places. Its Twitter-like Buzz didn’t get much positive buzz and its Wave service waved goodbye before it was even officially launched.
Circles of friends
Friendships on Google+ will be centered around “circles.” The idea is that there is some information you might want to share with one circle of friends and an entirely different set of things you might want to share with another group. You can have a circle of workmates, another circle of drinking buddies and another made up of family members.
Facebook offers a similar feature called lists that allows you to divide your friends into lists and post to specific groupings of friends but the feature is pretty hard to find and use. With Google+, the circles feature is obvious. In fact you’re forced to put each new person you interact with on one or more circles. You can add additional circles at any time. The person knows that they are in one of your circles but they don’t know which one. A circle could be labeled anything you want like “friends,” “colleagues” or “jerks I need to follow.”
Google+ also encourages you to hang out with your friends via group chat (they’re calling it Huddle) and via video “hangouts,” which Google describes as “Let buddies know you’re hanging out and see who drops by for a face-to-face-to-face chat.” When you’re on the service, you can see who among your circles is “hanging out” so you can join in, assuming your PC has a camera and a microphone (most now do). Up to 10 people can be in a hangout at once and you can see the profile pictures of everyone who is in there with you.
Be careful in ‘hangouts': Someone may be watching
Do be careful about how you use hangouts. As I was testing Google+, I noticed a friend was “hanging out.” I chose to hang out with him but he apparently didn’t realize it. He was on the phone, oblivious to the fact that I was watching and listening. What’s also interesting is that I had just added this person to one of my circles but he hadn’t added me. For all he knew, I could have been a stranger. As a courtesy, I contacted him later to let him know that his privacy was inadvertently violated. He said that he had turned on the hangout feature to he but forgot about it after the phone rang. It was a good lesson for all of us. Be aware of any video software you’re running and keep an eye on your webcam’s light to make sure it’s not on when you don’t really want to be seen or heard.
Although this doesn’t seem all that revolutionary, Google also plans to offer you videos and articles it thinks you’ll like, “so when you’re free, there’s always something to watch, read, and share.”
And if you want to share pictures of yourself and your friends, you can take advantage of the service’s Instant Upload feature so that “your photos and videos upload themselves automatically, to a private album on Google+.”
Like Twitter, Google+ shows a stream of posts from people in your circles. Also like Twitter, you can follow (add to a circle) someone without them necessarily having to follow you back. This means that you can see what other people are posting (and vice versa) without having to be mutual friends. There are ways to control that — you can post only to people in your circles, but if you make your posts public, anyone can see them. And you need to pay attention to how you are posting. For example, if you post something to the public, that will be the default until you change it.
The company says that it’s “still ironing out a few kinks in Google+” so it’s not ready for everyone. For more information, visit plus.google.com.