Google's super secret social networking endeavor, Google Plus, was released this week as a "Field Test." Many from the Google Buzz crowd and FOGs (Friends of Google) were invited along and within 48 hours it opened up to a much wider group. It is estimated (albeit unscientifically) that several thousand people now have access. I'd like to let new readers know that I get excited about new web properties. I've pitched other new social networks that turned out to fall flat. However, Google Plus is the real deal and absolutely worth a serious look.
1. Google Plus was one of the best kept secrets of any large project I have ever seen. It's truly remarkable that more information did not leak out about this project. Sure, almost exactly a year ago, Kevin Rose tweeted "Ok, umm, huge rumor: Google to launch facebook competitor very soon 'Google Me', very credible source." But not very much was known about the details of the project. Now, Google in grand fashion has released "Google Me" as "Google+". Google has tight control over confidential information and plays its cards close to its vest. (In this regard, Google is similar to Apple.) However, people on Buzz knew something was coming soon because the few Googlers who supported Google Buzz was noticeably absent from Buzz for months.
2. Google Plus is NOT Buzz Reincarnated -- Thankfully. I've seen people refer to Google Plus as "Buzz 2.0" and I can barely see the resemblance. Although the Field Test includes many of the prominent Buzz users, the site is not similar to Google Buzz in many respects. It's not baked into Gmail, does not have a chaotic feed that is difficult to follow, has an entirely different UI and includes MANY previously-unseen features. In hindsight, what kept Buzz from becoming a ghost town was the friendships that formed early in Buzz's existence. In a sense, we were a people without a home. Just prior to the Google Plus launch, some of us were migrating to a site called "Namesake." (Check it out if you haven't.) In other words, we were collectively coming to our senses that Buzz was not a good platform.
Google Plus brings with it some amazing features but the best is "Circles." Each user has the ability to create, edit and delete groups of friends in a simple manner. I'll let Google explain with its own Youtube:
Google Plus is being compared and contrasted with Facebook, not surprisingly. Circles are far easier to use than Facebook's "friends lists." Almost everyone I know who uses Facebook shares everything with their entire friends list or the entire universe of Facebook users. Sometimes, rarely, they will send someone a private message too. Circles allow for people to easily group people by interest or topic. The ability to easily drop and drag people into and out of a Circle makes for relationships to develop (and end) quickly. No longer am I sharing everything with people I can barely remember from high school. But if I wanted to, I could. Circles enable users to better control the distribution of their updates.
And I'm barely scratching the surface by only mentioning Circles. There's also Sparks (discovery by topic), Hangouts (group videochats) and some other features that are still in development like Questions and Games. (Yes, Google Plus has better feed control than other social networks and without a doubt we'll be able to exclude unwanted classes of content from our feeds. Did you hear that Zynga?)
3. Google Plus is NOT Facebook Plus -- Thankfully. While it looked like Facebook to me at first (perhaps even an older iteration), Google Plus is substantially different. Already I see new relationships forming. Facebook, as I see it used, is primarily a tool for sharing brief remarks with friends from the face-to-face world. Google Plus can be used for the purpose but what I like about it is the ability to find interesting people who don't exist in my face-to-face world. On Twitter these relationships can be formed by a series of 140 character tweets, but on Google Plus there are some more in depth discussions forming around topics, and we have the baked in ability to meet face-to-face (virtually) without even leaving the Google Plus ecosystem. In fact, as far as communicating with people online, Google Plus is a comprehensive platform.
In any event, I think the "Facebook killer" view is the wrong way to look at Google Plus right now. It could be used as a Facebook alternative (or Twitter alternative) or simply as a supplemental social network. It is not a case of Google just "one-upping" Facebook. Google has designed a unique social network with some features we have seen before but many new features which appear to be carefully considered (contrast with Buzz) and extremely well executed (e.g., Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and so on). By running a limited Field Test, Google is working out some minor issues before the site is available to everyone but none of the minor issues I have seen have adversely affected my impression of what Google Plus is and where it is going.
There's so much more that could be written about Google Plus and the blogosphere has exploded with posts about it. There are many different ways to analyze Google Plus but I suggest, as I wrote above, that Google Plus is unique. If you do not join up thinking Buzz+ or Facebook+, you will likely fall in love with it the way most users seem to be during the Field Test.
If you don't already have access, you will soon. While you wait, minor annoyances are being resolved and Google Plus is improving. You're in for an eye-opening treat and I hope you enjoy it at least as much as I have the past few days. When you get there, look me up (http://goo.gl/eA1ih).
P.S. The Android app for Google Plus, which can only be used by people who have joined and not those waiting for invitations to join, is icing on the cake. Truly spectacular.