So I’ve been using the service for a few days now and the fact I’ve made it a Pinned Tab in Chrome should tell you how much I like it. I think it’s got a huge amount of potential, and I sincerely hope that it takes off. I also sincerely hope it doesn’t just morph into an identikit Facebook — but hopefully that won’t happen, because although Google is gradually spreading itself over all aspects of the web, they haven’t (yet) done anything that particularly offends me from a privacy or usability perspective. In fact, every change they’ve made to their services while I’ve been a user has been for the better.
So let’s go over some thoughts, tips and tricks in handy bullet-point form, for those of you who are just getting started — or those who have been using it for a while. Or those who tried it once and immediately gave up. Or, well, just anyone interested, really.
- Circles are made to be used. Use them! Make as many as is practical for you. Don’t stick with the Facebook approach of keeping everyone in one Friends list. There will be some crossover between Circles as a natural process, particularly if you and your friends share some common interests, but they’re there to be useful. Case in point: today I shared my GamePro articles only with those who are specifically interested in video games (which, as it happens, is most of my friends currently on G+) — once more people get in there, that facility will be a godsend.
- The photo interface is gorgeous. The photo viewer looks great and has a nice layout, and the way the photos are tiled on the album page is attractive and distinctive. My only quibble is that you can’t rename an album — or so I thought. As it happens, since G+ photo albums are actually albums on Picasa, to change an album name all you need to do is go to Picasa’s website and change it there. Hopefully Google will add the facility to do this within G+ shortly — because, as I found out tonight, long album titles break the page layout.
- You can format stuff with special characters, not HTML. Putting *asterisks* either side of a word/phrase/sentence/paragraph makes it bold. Putting _underscores_ either side of something makes it italic. Putting -dashes- either side of something makes it strikethrough. You don’t appear to be able to underline things.
- Buzz is shit. I turned on Google Buzz because it adds a tab to your profile where your Twitter feed, Google Reader shared items and various other goodies can be automatically shared. However, this only appears on your profile and takes literally hours to update, making the auto-import from Twitter in particular utterly useless.
- No ads is nice. I know it won’t last, but using a social network with no ads makes for a lovely, clean experience.
- Face recognition when tagging photos is a good start, but needs work. It doesn’t recognise some faces, and it would be nice if it “learned” faces like iPhoto does. Still, it automatically spotting where faces are is a good start.
- Resharing should be an option. You can post something then disable reshares and/or comments for it after it’s been posted — but that might be too late. You should be able to choose whether or not a post is resharable or commentable before you post it.
- +1 is a useful bookmarking function. More sites are starting to use it now, and having a tab on your profile for all your +1s is handy. However, as the feature grows, this list is going to become long and cumbersome. It needs to be searchable, taggable or able to be organised into some sort of hierarchy. +1s also need a Share button if you want to post them to your Circles, as currently your +1s around the Web have nothing to do with G+ besides appearing on this tab.
- The current absence of brand pages is wonderful. Another thing that won’t last, as every corporation believes it needs a presence on every major social network. But for now, the fact that G+ remains a truly person-based social network is thoroughly pleasant.
- Notification bar across all Google apps is great. This means you’re always engaged with the service, yet it’s not overly intrusive. The fact this is already integrated hopefully means further service integrations in the future — Events auto-syncing with Google Calendar, for example, would be smashing.
- Things I’m looking forward to: Themes, non-obtrusive extensions, the iOS app, further integration between Google services, the service being open to everyone.
- Things I’m not looking forward to: Social games, brand pages, ads.