Google's New Google+ Social Network: Hands On
Google's new Google+ social network, currently in a "field trial," can't quite avoid the stereotype that the company's products sacrifice usability for new features. Put simply, Google+ is a social network for geeks.
Unfortunately, Google can't help exposing numerous options to share, hide, protect, and discover photos, friends, videos, posts, and all of the other minutiae that make up today's online social interactions.
Underneath, however, there are some rather elegant features, including a lovely "Circles" interface to add friends, and a "Hangout" group video chat feature that holds promise.
But users used to Facebook's minimalist interface may find Google+ jarring. And, sad to say, Google's "field trial" suffered from overcapacity, an issue which may or may not have rippled into our evaluation on Tuesday afternoon. I and other PCMag.com staffers experienced numerous annoyances, which resulted from either poor design decisions, alpha glitches, or the overcapacity issue - I don't know which.
But two features - Hangouts, and the automatic, unlimited photo and video uploading from Google+ Mobile - should make Google+ moderately successful. For those reasons, I'd recommend you check it out, when more invites become available.
Google's Google+ is part of the Google network of sites, and on my screen, a "+Mark" appeared first on a black bar, followed by Gmail, Calendar, and the other sites. Within Google+, four icons always appear at the top of the screen: Home, Photos, Profile, and Circles.
Before you can do anything else, Google wants to know a little about you. If you're a Google user, chances are you've already filled out a profile: who you are, where you work, your education, where you've lived, et cetera. While it's not thrust in your face, each field has a privacy dropdown box attached to it: do you want to share it with anyone on the Web? With your private Circles?
You can even specify a custom privacy setting, of a sort. (Hint: when the "Custom" dropdown triggers the field, click the "x" next to the green "Public" box, if it's there. This allows you to customize the "Bragging rights" field, for example, so that your prowess in mud wrestling is only viewable to either a specific circle, or just to a few people you specify by email address.)
Google supplied me, and PCMag.com, with fifteen invitations to Google+, enough for a robust social network. Google's unexpected announcement of Google+ threw me for a loop, however, and instead of having time to solicit Gmail addresses for our staff, I entered their PCMag.com email addresses and sent out the invitations. And there was another wrinkle: almost immediately, trying to use the invitations returned an error message reporting that Google+ was over capacity. So much for cloud computing, hmm?
Fortunately, the capacity problems cleared, and I and other staffers logged on. But then another problem manifested, spoiling one of the more elegant aspects of Google+: Circles.
To add a contact to Google+, you need to enter your Circles, which are separated, by default, into acquaintances, friends, family, and "following," which apparently is for people who you don't want to interact with, but merely admire from afar. You can also create your own Circle, and define it as you wish. Obviously, this addresses one of the overt weaknesses of Facebook: without configuration, all of your friends are lumped together into one big group.