Katya Rogers is the Senior Producer for On the Media
The ins and outs of Google Plus
Friday, July 15, 2011 - 03:24 PM
Since its introduction last week as an invite only service, Google's new social networking service Google+ has added over 10 million users, and has been the subject of endless speculation by the press, techies, and social networkers alike. But just what is it? How does it work? What makes it any different from Facebook or Twitter? Former On the Media producer and unabashed Google fanboy Mark Phillips gives us the lowdown on Google's latest offering.
Q: Since you’ve been gone we’ve had no one on staff extolling the virtues of google’s products – what is google +?
A: The short answer is Google+ is Google's latest attempt to get into the "social" realm of the internet, which is pretty much dominated by Facebook and Twitter. The web seems to be gravitating towards these social-based services and Google doesn't want to be left behind.
Q: And the long answer?
A: The best way to think of Google+ is not as a place like Facebook but as a layer on top of all the Google services you already use. Google has a lot of services that are at the heart of people’s online (and offline) lives: their search engine, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, Google Calendar and so on. All of these services could have a social components to them and that's what they're hoping Google+ will be.
Say you're doing a Google search and you find a cool website - you might want to share that with people (without opening up Facebook and posting a link). Say you look up that restaurant you're going to on Google Maps - you might want to quickly share that with the people you're meeting there (without pasting the location info into an email). These social scenarios are easy to imagine for pretty much every Google product you use. So it's all the Google stuff you already use and love, PLUS the ability to share it with the people you want. Get it? Google PLUS.
Q: Not quite – why don’t you talk down to me some more?
A: Well, for now the integration of Google+ into the rest of Google’s stuff is pretty minimal. But say you do a Google Search and you see a page you want to share, run your mouse over it on the search results page and there’s a +1 button. If you click that, you share that page in Google+. That’s the kind of stuff we’ll be seeing across the Google empire.
But to break it down even more, there are two main features of Google+ at the moment, Circles and Huddles. Huddles are pretty simple - just think of them as enhanced Gmail features. You can do voice and video chats with multiple people. It's also a slicker way to send messages among groups. Nothing too big conceptually, but very nicely done.
Circles are a bit more complicated. You can organize all your contacts into circles. “Friends,” “Co-workers,” “Acquaintances,” “Best friends,” etc... This is crucial for Google+ to work because if it's really going to be a layer on top of all the Google stuff you use, you're going to want to have very tight control of who you're sharing with. Say you're hanging out somewhere and you want to share your GPS location. With Google Maps on your phone you might be able to easily share it with a Circle named, say, "Very Best NYC friends." Without that kind of control, you probably wouldn't want to share your location at all.
Q: So with the circles you can say something totally gross to your actual mates, while not embarrassing yourself with work contacts?
A: Again, think of this less as a place to post status updates and more of way of sharing events in your calendar, your location from Google Maps, search results, etc... Somethings, like a cool OTM story, you'll want to share with all your Circles. Other things, like some sweet photos from last weekend, you'll only want to share with the Circle called "My Old Friends From D.C. Who Are Really into Dungeons and Dragons."
Q: have you “hung out” yet?
A little bit. Google+ is still invitation-only so it feels like going to bar before its official opening. But they have reached the 10 million user mark in less than a week, so I do think a lot of people will continue to join and we’ll start to get a feel for it quickly. Right now it basically looks like a cooler, easier-to-use version of Facebook except nobody’s posting anything. Yet...
Q: how many friggin’ social media sites can we use? Will this divide people into facebook or google people? like the iphone vs. android people?
A: Yeah, it’ll be really interesting to see the kind of stuff people share on Google+ and how it differs from Facebook and Twitter. It won’t work if people are sharing the exact same things. It could become the go-to service for sharing location (Foursquare, in my opinion, never went mainstream). Or maybe it’ll eventually become how people share videos (since Google owns YouTube). Or maybe it’ll be the place for sharing photos (their photo interface already blows Facebook’s away). Or maybe it will fail.
One thing to think about is the question that each service asks you to get you to post something. Twitter started with the prompt “what are you doing right now?” - hence billions of tweets saying things like, “eating a turkey sandwich. Mmm!”. Facebook asks you “what’s on your mind?” which leads to a lot of posts where people try to illustrate who they are and how they’re feeling. Google+, on the other hand, is starting with the prompt “share what’s new...” I don’t know what exactly that will produce but it suggests to me that it’ll be more outwardly directly. Maybe it’ll be a place where we post things about the world and not about our inner lives. We’ll see.
Q: One last question; do you miss your former co-workers at On the Media?
A: Big time! I miss the hell out of the whole OTM crew and getting to help put together a show each week. I’m excited to see the new, pimped-out OTM website and a little bummed I wasn’t their to enjoy its fruits. It is more relaxing to let you guys consume insane amounts of media for me, instead of having to do it myself. I can just sit back and listen to the show each week and let you guys to the media over consumption for me.