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Google+: A Review

Google+:The latest attempt at social networking with a difference. It has been known for a while now that Google was working on something called “Circles”, a Facebook equivalent. However, Google+ takes the concept a lot further than just social networking.

Google+ has introduced 2 major new features: Hangouts & Sparks.An enhanced feature of social networking is Circles.

Circles

Circles can be argued as a new feature but in my opinion it is glorified lists. It is definitely a new perspective on managing contacts. In some ways, it makes it easier because the graphical interface makes it easier to add,view and manage contacts.

Whenever you post an item, whether that is a status update, photos, video or relationship update, you can choose exactly who is able to view that. Multiple Circles can be selected but also individual people. Management of Circles is key to privacy in Google+. Adding the right people in the right Circles means that your posts are visible only to the people you want to share them with. It is also possible to add one individual to multiple circles. So if a friend is added to Friends, you can create a new Circle “Roadtrip group” and add him/her to that too. So you can share links related only to that activity with that Circle but not the rest of your friends.

Hangouts

Hangouts are great! It is literally where people can meet all their friends and actually talk face to face. Basically it is a group video chat in which people can drop by easily to say hi. Unlike all the current video conferencing solutions, Hangouts shows only one speaker at a time on the big screen. All the rest of the contacts are shown at the bottom with their live video in smaller size.

None of the social networks right now, have this feature. Facebook has group chat but only text. Hangouts is also rivalling Skype. Skype currently has subscription based grouped video chat feature. With Google+, Hangouts is free. There have been reviews by tech blogs which say that the feature works flawlessly. Its smooth video streams, transitions and the switching works great, the only limiting factor is apparently your internet connection. Below is a video from LifeHacker.

Sparks

Everyone knows the “like” feature in Facebook which allows you to follow a certain company or group but this is limited to only one group. You have to like several groups or companies that interest you. Sparks simplifies this massively. Sparks lets you follow your interests. This is similar to searching a generic topic hashtag on Twitter. Say you like Robotics, you simply search “robotics” and add it as your interests. This will give you access to all the items related to the field of robotics from different sources. Google being the top search engine, only provides you with reliable, trusted and informative posts from the web related to your interests.

I really like this feature because it means I don’t have to selectively look up certain groups or companies related to my interests and it filters for me all the news items. If you wish to follow certain blogs or groups, you can do that too. Simply search the name of the blog and you’ll be presented with results only from that blog, then just add it as your interest.

Stream

What is a Stream? Stream is a feed of posts from your circles. It is the equivalent of “News Feed” in Facebook minus the updates from your interests. Here you’ll see anything that your contacts have shared with you, updates, photos, videos or even locations. When sharing something, there is an option to add your location to the post. This is available from a desktop platform or mobile platform.

There seems to be no equivalent of “the wall” in Google+. So to direct certain shares towards individuals, a “+[name]” is required. This works like “mentions” in Twitter or tagging friends in posts on Facebook. If your share mentions a friend of two, that post will be viewable to only those people by default. This can be changed an Circles can be added by clicking “Add more people”.

Buzz & +1

Google+ integrates with Buzz and +1. On your profile there are tabs for Buzz and +1 which show your Buzz posts and things around the web that you like. Although you cannot post to Buzz from Google+ you can +1 posts that you see in your Stream.

Other features

Google has launched Google+ on Android and the mobile web. Android has a dedicated application which gives users even more features such as Instant Upload and Huddles. Instant Upload allows user to upload a photo or a video directly from their Android device. Huddles is a group chat and is a mix between Google Talk and iMessage or BBM. Its instant messaging but for a group and its cross-platform. So when Google+ applications hit all the other ecosystems (iOS, Blackberry, WebOS ) everyone will be able to Huddle together.

You can visit the mobile website at http://m.google.com/plus .

My experience with Google+ so far has been limited but great. The features are great especially Sparks & Circles that I have used. But I don’t have a webcam to test Hangouts 😦 . The mobile website is also very accessible and clean layout making it easy to use. I just hope Google+ has a good uptake unlike Google Wave.

Please do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Sources/Links: Google+, Google+ (mobile), Youtube

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