Our experiences with Google+ so far…

Since its launch as a Field Trial a few weeks ago, the Google+ Project has been getting a lot of attention from bloggers and the media. Demand for invites to try the new social network immediately following the launch was so high that it became a story of its own. For more on that story, check out HuffPost TECH’s posting on June 29: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/google-plus-invitation-google-social-network_n_886755.html.

Some background information
To get a good overview of Google’s new social network, visit http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/. You can take a tour of Google+ at http://www.google.com/+/demo/. There is a posting on the Google Blog introducing the project and the platform’s features, which is also well worth reading: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-google-project-real-life.html.

The Google+ project is by invitation only. Once you have an invite, you can invite a limited number of others to join the project. Which is why the invites have been in such hot demand! If you have not been offered an invite already from someone you know, there’s a Join the Project button at the top of the Take a Tour web page. When you click on the button, a note will pop up giving you the opportunity to be notified by Google when they are going to make more invites available.

Exploring Google+
I was lucky enough to receive an invite to join the project and have been exploring the new platform over the past few days. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I can tell you this: you can look to add these new words and concepts to your social vocabulary:  Circles, Sparks and Hangouts.  Below are some notes of my experiences with Google+ so far—

• The circles are awesome, and make it so easy to organize your contacts in groups and to share information with only those that you want to share with. Circles can include friends, family, acquaintances, work friends, people you follow, and any other group of contacts that you want to create. You can add people to your circles, even though they may not have added you to their circles. When you share news on the site, you can choose to post publicly to everyone, or to any one of your circles. And, there’s a tab that allows you to edit your posting if you’ve made a mistake – an option that I really appreciate.

• Hangouts allow you to video chat with up to 10 friends at one time! For those of us who have family and friends spread across the country and around the globe, this is huge. Google is not kidding when they say Check your hair and make sure your mic works! It took only seconds from the time I clicked on the Start a hangout button and installed the Google Voice and Video plugin to seeing myself on the screen, ready for a chat. Now to find some friends on Google+ to hangout with and try it out…

• Sparks are designed to help you easily find and share information about topics or subjects online that you have an interest in. There’s a button that allows you to pin an interest under Sparks for easy access in the future. Google+ offers suggestions for Sparks with featured interests, like fashion, recipes, and race cars. Not too exciting at first glance. But, then I popped into the search bar a popular, current event topic, US Debt Ceiling, and was immediately impressed—a news feed of recent online articles on the subject. I tried US women’s soccer next, and then a broad topic that I follow, social media of course.

• On the mobile front, you can add your location to your postings, if you want. And, you can instantly upload photos from your Android phone to a private album on Google+ and share them with everyone or only those you choose to share with. Wow! Good news for all my iPhone buddies (that would be the rest of the team at HDG), you will be able to do this soon too. http://www.google.com/mobile/+/ (As at 7.20 available on iPhone). One last feature, which I am looking forward to exploring when I have a few more friends on the site, is the Huddle. This allows you to instant chat with a group of 6 people at one time.

• As I have an iGoogle account set up as my home page, my Google+ account is easy to access. I simply click on +Joann in the header, next to my Gmail and Google Reader. I added my photo to my profile and had the option to edit the image, changing color saturation, and so on. Nice.

Our thoughts
So far, so good! From all accounts, Google is trying to create a social networking site that is more about you and your needs as a user of a social networking site. They comment in their blog posting, which was referenced above, that “online sharing needs a serious re-think”. It feels like they have done that and more.  Time will tell as we use and explore Google+ over the coming months.

At HDG, as marketers and designers, we’re interested in understanding how the new platform is going to impact businesses. Facebook pages are a great way to share corporate stories and to connect with your audiences, and they’re optimized for the search engines. We wonder what’s on the horizon for businesses in this regard with Google+.

To our clients, we recommend (1) adding the +1 button to your website with your other share buttons, so people coming to your website can recommend your content on Google+—users signed into Google.com will be able to see the +1 button in search results — http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/; and (2) pay close attention to what’s going on with this.

There is no Like, or Thumbs up, button on Google+. We hope you +1’d this!