After months of rumours it’s finally here, so what is Google+ like? My first thoughts are that it’s super slick and that Circles definitely makes it different, but I’m not sure better.
Limiting the distribution of shared information will likely also limit the growth of the network, something that’s not going to help Google+ grow to Facebook’s size. Will the limited sharing encourage more sharing? I’m not sure. There have certainly been a couple of times when I’ve held back from sharing inside Google Reader as I know not all of my Facebook friends will want to see it when it’s sent to my wall via FriendFeed but that doesn’t happen often.
When sharing inside Facebook directly I already have the choice of publishing to my friends via my wall, or to a particular group wall and I make that choice when I share. People have the choice of joining a group, or or adding me as a friend, or both. I choose where I publish when I publish and they choose what they subscribe to. Having to partition contacts up front, before I have anything to share, is harder. Maybe it will become more natural, but currently it feels weird. The sharing itself is also harder, feeling a lot more like composing an email, having to choose recipients than just a place to post.
Circles apart, Google+ definitely feels somewhat early and skeletal. Hangouts look like a nice group video chat feature, but it’s difficult to judge with so few people currently on the network. Sparks doesn’t look like it will ever be as useful as Google Reader to filter information on interests and, given the focus on social sharing, feels like a bootstrapping mechanism more than a long term feature. Mostly Google+ feels like a weird, empty, alternate reality version of Facebook with more primary colours, which is to be expected.
There’s a long way to go, but I’m glad Google has made a start. Google+ feels like it could be both a real competitor and alternative to Facebook, which is a good thing. One horse races are never very interesting to watch.