When Google Plus first launched, it was obviously simplistic in nature. It featured a mostly spaced out interface, plain white background, and no advertisements (interesting touch Google. I wonder how long that will last). It came with great features, like the typical information stream with friend updates, like Facebook and Twitter. It had dedicated profile pages, like Facebook. It gave you the options of having thumbnail images along the top of your profile, site-wide chat with your friends, and later introduced apps and games on the social network (all like Facebook).
It seemed like a Facebook copy-cat in regards to what it offered, but then again, how else do you really create a social network? My attempt at doing so with a small community of students at my university worked okay for a while, and I had a few unique features that none of these other networks have going on (like site-wide chat rooms that users can create themselves, personal videos on profiles that are unique to students’ personal work, and a universal discussion board that everyone can participate in openly). Still, the core philosophy behind my attempt at generating community involvement still relied on the core concepts that Facebook implemented: Information streams, and exterior-web connectivity, linking people together more intimately. No matter what I try now, it’ll be difficult to be better than Facebook in design and implementation.
Google’s new redesign isn’t like Facebook’s redesign. Yes, it does give the option to have a “cover photo” that expresses who they are now (Timeline anyone?), but profile photos are larger, and moved to the other side of the screen now (which is different). Streams (now renamed to just “Home”) are redone, and are still very clean. There is now a navigation bar on the left to get to different sections of Google Plus, and the apps that you use within it (this used to be on the top).
Users can also interact with others in different ways now. The site allows you to start a hangout about a specific post, with a small camera icon under it. You can also see all sharing activity with just a click. Along the right, like Facebook, there is a list of everyone you can chat with, or start a hangout with. It’s not annoying like Facebook’s steaming list of crap that nobody cares about, and it creates no clutter.
It has a variety of Facebook’s original features, like a site-wide stream of information, profiles that aren’t cluttered with nonsense (unlike MySpace), and friend chat. There are pages for businesses, and you can hit a button to “+1″ something (just trying to read that out load will sound dumb to you), and dedicated sections for photos and videos, with conversation abilities spread site wide. Posts down the “stream” look very similar to Tumbler blogging layouts, and the way Facebook is doing things now, and there is no a “Trending on Google+” element that is obviously a ripoff of Twitter.
Again, there are still no ads, which is a plus (pun intended). It is, however, more complicated now. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to complicate a site which was pushed out with simplicity and speed in mind, but Google must do whatever they can to do it correctly, and to not create clutter. I think they’re riding the line with this new design, but as it is, I like it.
Although it came out closed to the public, the network was widely regarded as a potential threat to Facebook. The network has many advantages over their competition, because it’s Google. That’s not saying that Google itself has a novelty behind the name (like say, Apple), but being a part of Google has definite competitive advantages over Facebook. It’s largely integrated into everything we do already on the web.
Key example: The most popular search engine in the world? Google. The second most popular: YouTube, which is owned by Google. We’re talking billions of hits and hundreds of millions of uniques every day happening here. Google Plus was built on the concept of allowing people to continue having that same Google experience they love, plus an element of their own personal lives mixed within it. A social interaction element that everyone could mix within their already existing account in the Google eco-system.
The problem is, while Google has all of the features and integration advantages to make it a star in social media, the area where it gravely lacks with the user experience thus far, is the population. You can’t grow a small town into a thriving city without people, and Google Plus is an insignificant pot-hole in comparison to the crater that Facebook has created in our digital worlds.
Google Plus is also very young, and there is a long road ahead of it to become anything close to what Facebook is in the eyes of users. There isn’t much of a reason to leave Facebook when all of your friends are online there already, and moving social networks really only happens when something profound comes into play. Google Plus isn’t profoundly different from Facebook yet, and until that time, people aren’t going to jump ship. They may do what I’ve done, and have an account on both Facebook and Google Plus, but then you run into the issue of having to visit them both. I spend 95% of my time on Facebook. I rarely ever use Google Plus, unless I want to have a Hang Out session with people.
Seriously, if Facebook implemented a competitor to Hang Outs, it would really be all over for Google Plus, in my opinion. It’s really the only thing I find that Google has that is profoundly different as far as my own experiences go.
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