Last night, I got an invitation to join Google's new social network. I've played around with it for a few hours, and I'm nowhere near ready to write a strict up-or-down review for a few reasons: First, it's obviously a beta test, and second, there aren't enough people on it yet to really see how it operates as a social network. I don't have the capability to invite people—it seems like Google put the brakes on invitations for just about everyone last night—so I can't really test all the different social features yet. But I've downloaded the Android app and messed around on the site, and here's what I think:
1. I love how fast Google+ is. If I take a photo on my slow-as-hell, 2-year-old phone, the app immediately uploads the photo to a private photo album section of my Google+ profile (and I mean immediately, as in: Take a photo, set the phone down, go to the site on my desktop and find the photo there, waiting to be delivered to the contacts of my choice). Everything feels instantaneous like that.
2. I love the Circles feature, where you can organize contacts in one circle (or multiple circles) and restrict sharing of information to certain circles. I know Facebook has this feature, but it's a chore, and not nearly as fun as Circles. I could see certain fastidious people spending hours organizing their friends and coworkers into various categories and subcategories just for the OCD thrill of it. (A pleasant part of Circles is that people never get to see the name of the Circle you put them in, so if you put someone in a "Distant Friends," or a "Necessary Evil" Circle, they'll be none the wiser.) And I like that on most screens you have the option to view your page as any of your contacts would see it; that resolves a lot of privacy issues that people may have.
3. For me, the Sparks feature is a dud. It's just an RSS feed based on your interests, with no fine-tune control available. I imagine the Google team is offering Sparks as a feature for people who are not internet-savvy, but if you have an RSS reader, or Twitter (or both), you'll probably not find much that's new here.
4. I think Google+ might be a hard sell. In the past, I've considered getting a private Facebook profile under a fake name for the use of just 20 or so of my closest friends (one reason why: a frequent Slog commenter once trolled some vacation pictures of mine a couple years back, and so I don't really use Facebook for photos anymore because it's not worth the effort to patrol my own profile) and Google+ is definitely an attractive solution for keeping my life compartmentalized. I assume that a few people—and, specifically, a lot of tech writers who have been similarly waxing rhapsodic over Circles—are in the same boat as me. But I don't think that's a common problem, is it? I think most people are fine with keeping their Facebooks as an open firehose and letting their information go wherever Facebook wants, and so Google+ doesn't solve any problems for them.
5. It is at once great and annoying that Google+ information is available to you on any Google site via that new spruced-up toolbar at the top of their pages. Whenever anyone you know does something, the right-hand corner of the bar shows a number, like so:
It's not annoying like a vibrating phone, but it is another number to keep track of, and if you're on the internet a lot, it does a fine job of attracting your attention.
6. I'm looking forward to using the video chat and texting features. If they behave like the photo-sharing features, they should be a joy to use.