I've been using Google+ a lot since it was announced last Tuesday, but I haven't written much about it yet. There are a number of reasons why I've been semi-mum. For one thing, I have a lousy track record when it comes to gut reactions about Google social services. I thought Buzz was intriguing, and I didn't instantly figure out the privacy issues. And I had visions of Google Wave leading to an epic war between Google and Microsoft.
I don't completely blame myself for failing to instantly figure out that Buzz and Wave would be very nearly DOA. The most important part of social networks is the social aspect, and that's impossible to judge from a demo or a closed beta test. And since Google+ still isn't open to the general public, it's still early to be rendering any sort of long-range verdict on it.
Still, after almost a week, I'm beginning to form impressions of this service -- mostly positive ones -- and even if I don't have all the answers, I have lots of questions.
Was Google's rollout strategy smart?
If Google+ had debuted a couple of years ago, Google would have held a big press bash at the Googleplex to announce this thing. It would have set expectations high, and said that it would be rolling out to the entire planet within a couple of weeks. Instead, it kept things low key; all the celebration that the launch got was a blog post and a few videos. And then Google let in all the people (like, um, me) who would have attended the press event that didn't happen, and has intermittently allowed us to invite other people. I imagine that Google is pleased with how that strategy has panned out: nearly everyone who's using the service and writing about it seems to like it. But Google and everybody else won't have a strong sense of how much normal people like it until it's open to the general public.
Are Circles actually appealing?
Large parts of the G+ interface are borrowed directly from Facebook. (If you use Chrome, you can even make G+ look almost exactly like Facebook.) The asymmetric nature of relationships -- I can follow you without permission, and you don't need to follow me back -- is much like Twitter. But one core Google+ concept is new. It doesn't just let you create groups of friends, like Facebook does. It forces you to do so, since "adding" someone to Google+ involves assigning them to a Circle.
Google's theory is that people want to share certain stuff with their family members, other items with college buddies, still other matters with their coworkers, and so forth. Could be. It's somewhat difficult to tell until Google+ is open to the public and fills up with family members, college buddies, coworkers, and other random folk.
I do know that the concept of Circles isn't instantly appealing to me. For one thing, one of the things I like about Facebook is that it's a place where people I've known since I was a toddler are elbow-to-elbow with ones I met for the first time last month. (When I share a thought or an photo and a bunch of disparate people from different people Like it, it makes me happy.) For another, I find the process of sorting people into two of Google+'s default groups -- Friends and Acquaintances -- vaguely unappealing, since it forces me to make judgement calls about just how friendly I am with people.
Then again, I know I'm not a typical Google+ user. I consider all the social networks I'm on to be extensions of Technologizer, and if there's anything I don't feel comfortable sharing with the world, I don't share it on these services, period. Others may feel differently. And their reaction will play a big part in determining whether Google+ is a blockbuster or not.
Related Slideshow: 10 Google+ Tips for Beginners
What happens when (if?) the masses flood in?
For the first 24 hours, Google+ appeared to be a land inhabited only by tech journalists, tech bloggers, and Google employees. Today, the population consists of all those folks, plus people who read tech blogs and who have managed to wangle an invite. The conversation is lively, intelligent...and nerdy. It's a safe bet, however, that Google wants hundreds of millions of people to use G+; it may, in fact, consider it a disappointment unless most of the people who use Google use Google+, too. Will all the early G+ adopters who are raving about it be quite so enthusiastic if it gets overrun by random relatives and former coworkers?
Is Google+ good for discussing anything except Google+?
Speaking of the lively, intelligent, and nerdy chatter that takes place on Google+, the vast majority of it -- at least among the people I'm mingling with -- is about Google+. That's normal, and probably healthy for something so new and untested. (Twitter was a service about Twitter for a looong time.) But it makes it tough to gauge how useful G+ for discussing a bevy of topics of all sorts, especially since one of the key benefits is supposed to be the ability to divvy your friends up and wall off your conversations.
What happens when it becomes a platform?
One of the things I like about G+ so far is that it feels handcrafted-everything in my stream was willfully put there by a human being I know. There are no spammy game invites, no spammy status updates from smartphone apps, no pure spam-none of the stuff that makes Facebook, for all of its value, a place where the noise sometimes threatens to overwhelm the signal. G+ is free of junk because it offers no mechanisms for automatic posting. But what happens when Google offers a G+ API? Is there any chance that it'll impose restrictions designed to deflect crud? (Me, I'd be just as happy if there were no way for anything except for a human with a keyboard to use the service.)