Google first launched Google Plus back in June 2011 as an invitation-only field test. Demand however, was so high that on September 20th of the same year this “invite” system was scrapped and Google Plus was made available to everyone over the age of 18 without the need for an official invitation.
There are around 500 million registered users as on December 2012, Despite this seemingly rapid growth many people have remained wary of this new kid on the block, instead using (relatively) old favorites Facebook and Twitter for all their social network needs.
But Google Plus has promised its users more than other networks, describing its site as a “social layer” integrating all of Google’s online services under one all encompassing interface. The company wants the service to be a “one stop shop” offering everything the user might need under one web-based roof.
But streamlining and integration features aside, what does the actual Google Plus site offer to mobile and computer users? What does it do differently and how easy is it to use and interact with others on a daily basis? Our beginners guide will take you through the features that Google claims sets it apart from the rest.
Google Plus allows the user to add or follow people much like Twitter and Facebook. What Google Plus does differently in this respect is that it allows the user to organize these people into groups or “circles” for sharing across various other Google services such as Gmail and Google Play.
It provides the user with a number of default Circles groups – Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following. The Following Circle is described as “People you don’t know personally, but whose posts you find interesting.” These groups can be renamed at any time as well giving the option the create new ones.
Circles gives a degree of personalization not easily achieved (although possible) with Facebook and Twitter and in practice is easy and intuitive to use. Employing a basic drag and drop method to organize the Circles it’s simple to tailor exactly which posts you do and don’t see from the people you follow.
Similar to Facebook’s news feed and Twitter’s timeline, Google Plus offers the “Stream”. It’s simply a centralized dashboard where all the people in the user’s circles, along with the content that they share, can be monitored. You will see everything your friends post in real time, much the same as Google Plus ’s two rivals.
Again, Google has introduced some new features to the table in an effort to make the user switch sides. It allows you to see content from users who are not connected to you, but who still want to share something with you from Circles. This can be a double-edged sword however, as other users are able to share your content with their circles.
Another example of this is the Sparks feature. Interesting content that Google thinks you might be interested in is put in your stream under the title “sparks”. Although a novel feature at first, it sometimes proves interesting to see just what Google actually believes you will like, although before long it can seem little like blatant advertising.
The last, and possibly best, feature of the Stream and Google Plus as a whole, however has to be ‘Hangouts’.
Google Plus Hangouts are instant video conferences that the user can start with people in their Circles. Essentially a visual version of MSN messenger or Facebook chat, it provides a new take on talking and sharing content with others online. The user can group chat, talk one to one, or share videos and play games with other users. It’s possible to create instant webcasts with Hangouts, and even gives you the option to record these for viewing at a later date.
This feature has been widely used, the first publicly broadcast Hangout being with Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas back in September 21, 2011. A few system requirements apply. The user will need to download the Google Talk plug in, and of course a webcam is also required, but most should be able to access Hangouts with few technical hurdles.
So, some new features are on offer, some, simple developments on the theme and some real innovations. But is this enough to tempt users away from their old trusted sites? Surely the question is more, do we need another social network at all? Probably not. But we would have said we didn’t need the others before we had them either!
Google Plus will undoubtedly find its place in an increasingly crowded market. But how long until the next rival comes along? We’ll keep you up to date.