Google+ has been around for "field testing" for just over a month. There is tremendous buzz about the social networking product (unlike Google's last attempt at a Facebook killer, Google Buzz, which crashed and burned after a privacy backlash). Google+ is up over 25 million users already, a staggering growth rate, but still far from the massive user bases of Facebook and Twitter, both of which it challenges in aspects of its functionality. All this, it is still a closed, invite-only beta.
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On to the review - Google+ could definitely be the Facebook killer. The interface is clean, without the games, surveys, quizzes and advertising which have come to dominate Facebook. Sharing information, status updates, photos and video is a snap. Google wraps in its Picasa and Youtube properties and provides pretty much unlimited space to save your photos and videos.
Updates can be shared as "Sparks", tagged, categorized and of course searched, and your stream will contain Sparks of interest to you based on the categories you select and other Sparks you view. Sparks is a lot like Twitter, but richer with photos and video included and no character limit. I have found a few interesting people to follow so far and the stream just keeps getting better as I add them.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Google+ is the "Circles" relationship interface. You specify each of your Google+ contacts as a member of one or more circles - by default, Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. You can create other Circles with a simple drag and drop. For each Circle, you set which Circles can view any given item, or your profile and information. It's elegant, it's simple and it fixes the biggest issue I have with Facebook.
Another popular aspect of Google+ is the capability to create Hangouts. A Hangout is a shared room which uses your microphone and/or webcam to create a multi-person voice and video chat. Hangouts are actually a pretty sophisticated cloud-based videoconferencing system, and can support HD-quality video on the desktop. There are clients available for Android phones and Apple IOS, and rumors of integration to televisions on the horizon. The interface is fun and intuitive - you can open your Hangouts to specific users, or you any of your Circles.
Currently, Google+ is still in the process of implementing a system for business profiles - this could add LinkedIn to the list of services it threatens to displace. As more users come on board, the true test will be how it scales (so far there have been a few hiccups, for for growth of this magnitude, it has been impressive), and whether it gains the critical mass of Facebook or Twitter - do you need to be on it because everyone else is? The value of your social network grows with the number of links, but also becomes that much more difficult to manage and filter for information of true interest. Google+ looks to have the tools and structure to make this process much more effective.
More than any other feature, Google+'s "Data Liberation" function sets it apart from competitors. You can easily download your photos, your Profile and Stream data, as well as your Circles and Contacts. Rather than locking you into the platform by stranding the content, this kind of openness seems like Google living up to their
Overall, this is the most compelling product I have seen from Google in a long time. Further, it ties together many Google strengths - Picasa, Youtube, GoogleTalk, search, Android, and contacts, into a cohesive, easy-to-use social-networking tool. Gmail integration is supports to launch within days.
My first reaction to Google+ was "Do I need another Social Network?", but after using it, my question has turned to "Why do I need any other Social Network than Google+?".
Please share your experiences in the comments.