As of this writing, I have a modest 569 followers on Twitter and a slightly less modest 640 people who have added me to their Google+ Circles. That may seem like a small difference, but when you consider that my Twitter account had a head start of a couple hundred followers, several years, and much more pimping from Gizmodo and others, it’s significant. Google+ is full of people who are actively looking for content and are looking for interesting people to follow. Let me say this in no uncertain terms: if you log into Google+ and your feed is a barren wasteland, it’s your own fault. It means you’re not following the right people. And guess what, the right people are actually pretty easy to find. Search by your interests, find people that are posting cool stuff, and add them to a circle. There are also sites that recommend good follows such as RecommendedUsers.com and Group/As.
One reason Google+ has ramped up so quickly? It’s so easy, thanks to some pretty sweet integration with many of the Google services you likely already use. For example, when I have a new Google+ notification, a little “1″ (or 2 or 3, depending how many notifications I have) lights up in the upper-right corner of my Gmail window. I can click it, and it brings up an imbedded window where I can see the notification, and even respond to it, without ever having to leave the page I’m on. It’s incredibly convenient. Plus1ing is also integrated nicely into Google searches now, and it’s coming to more and more sites you regularly visit. Photo viewing/editing/sharing is really nice thanks to its integration with (read: consumption of) Picasa.
Having to squeeze your thoughts into 140 characters is a fun game—something your high school English teacher might have had you do one day to shake things up—but I often don’t feel like playing that game. Sometimes I just want to write out my thoughts as they appear in my head, without having to think about rewording them or resorting to horrible misspellings in order for it to fit. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s hardly the heart of a good conversation. Trying to carry out a conversation on Twitter is an act of futility; it’s maddening to figure out who is responding to what, especially when tweets so often devolve into snarky little quips and snips because that’s all there’s room for. It hurts my eyes’ ears.
Google+ combines Twitter’s “following” people with similar interests with the flowing conversations of Facebook, and it really works well most of the time. Not only have I found myself much more willing to engage in discussions on Google+, I’m seeing vastly higher interaction among others. I have found that people on Google+ are two to three times as likely to comment on one of my posts or reshare it than on Twitter. That’s anecdotal, sure—and I travel in the kind of tech-minded circles that are more likely to adopt Google+ early and stick with it. But there is a lot of real conversation—that’s talking and listening—and I’ve seen surprisingly little self-stroking.
Google+ introduced Circles, and they were good. Facebook then added its own group filtering feature, called Lists. So that’s the end and they must be equal now, right? Wrong. Here’s the thing about Google+’s filters: people actually use them. Virtually every person I know who uses Google+ has made at least a few circles and actually utilizes them. On the flip side, virtually nobody on Facebook uses filters. Like, at all. Yes, you can do it, but it came too late. The Lists feature on Facebook is an afterthought. We’re already used to using Facebook the way we use it, and most people aren’t going to change. Most people aren’t going to go through that long list of “friends” on Facebook and start sorting them. Because Google+ had this feature prominently highlighted at inception, almost everybody has been filtering as they go, and it’s super duper easy. How many Average Joe-types on Twitter use the “lists” feature, do you reckon? I’m willing to bet a lot fewer than you think, Mr. Twitter Poweruser.
Consider the case of Christina Trapolino. Christina is not a tech guru with years of experience. She’s not a celebrity. She’s not some Tila Tequila-esque sex-symbol. Yet Christina is in being followed by 19,888 people on Google+. How what why? Christina was good at starting conversations. She had some interesting ideas and posed some interesting questions. People started following, discussing, and resharing. She posts almost daily, and her posts always generate a ton of discussion. She is a normal person who now has a serious audience. Her story is far from unique. While 20K followers doesn’t sound like much compared to Twitter or Facebook numbers, it’s important to remember that this is early days. Big names like Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page are still under 600,000 people following them, but as a factor of the whole, that’s not so bad.
Christina’s story brings up an important point about the user base and user expectation. In many ways Google+ is a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter, and people are using it accordingly. They can get a feel for what’s happening in their areas of interest a la Twitter, but then they can engage more deeply, a la Facebook, if they choose to do so. It doesn’t seem hacked together, it seems like a good and smart marriage, and people are using it intelligently.
Sharing photos, videos, and links is exactly 4,386 times better on Google Plus than it is on Twitter. It’s science fact. You don’t have to click any nebulous, shortened html links (which I hate). Photos (single or multiple) display in line, video integration (especially with YouTube) is excellent, and links to web pages display nice previews. As far as Instant Upload on the mobile apps goes, well, the degree to which iCloud gets it wrong is the degree to which Google+ gets it right. It’s super-intuitive, fast, and pro-privacy. Facebook and Twitter have no answer to it. Working with, viewing, and sharing photos is a terrific experience on Google+.
Then there’s Google+ Hangouts, the built-in video chat. As much as we like to make fun of it around the office for being dorky and not so beautiful, it’s also what we turn to most often when we need to set up a quick video conference, and most of the time it works pretty well. When I was stuck indoors during Hurricane Irene, I used it to watch YouTube videos with various friends around the country. Common use cases aside, I offer you the example of Google using Hangouts to create something truly wonderful. Behold this full-on gigglefest between the Dalai Lama and the Reverend Desmond Tutu.
Look, I’m not saying that Google+ has replaced Facebook and Twitter for me. It hasn’t, yet. Facebook, for me, is a friends-only zone. My Facebook page is private and it’s for people I know in the physical world. Twitter is for getting a quick snapshot of the collective consciousness of the internet, for shameless self-promotion, and for being clever and pithy. That said, if Google+ had the active user base that Twitter does I would switch over and never look back. Why? Because Google+ can do everything that Twitter does but better, and it can do a ton of stuff that Twitter can’t.
So, yes, Google+ is a strange amalgamation of things and it isn’t quite sure what it wants to be yet. It still lacks some features, the mobile apps still need a lot of improvements, and it needs some refining. I’m okay with that for now. We have high expectations from Google, but consider for a moment how many years it took Facebook to evolve to where it is. Google+ is months old, not years. It’s good now, and it will get better. To write Google+ off this early is extremely premature. Let’s not assume the ship is going to sink just because it’s drizzling.