My First Thirteen Questions About Google+

By  |  Monday, July 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm

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.

Such as:

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.

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.)

What happens when it really gets integrated with the rest of Google?

Little bits of Google+ are already lashed together with little bits of other Google services, such as Picasa. And the new black bar across the top of most of Google gives Google+ users easy access to the service. But for the most part, it feels like a separate, largely self-contained world. I imagine that the +1 button is what’s going to make Google+ feel like more than the sum of its largely engaging parts: at some point, all the +1-ing that people are doing will start to have a profound impact on Google search results. But I’m not sure whether Google has it all figured out yet.

What happens to Buzz?

Was Google Buzz really only announced back in February of last year? It became irrelevant so quickly that it seems like it all happened longer ago than that. Now Buzz is a tab within G+, which only helps to emphasize how redundant it’ll be if G+ catches on. Will Google figure out a way to utterly meld Buzz into G+ so they become the same thing? Would anyone care if it simply killed Buzz, period?

Is the rest of Google going to look more like Circles?

Far more than Buzz or Google Wave, Google+ has a “this is the future of Google” feel about it–an aspect seemingly confirmed that it launched at the same time Google redesigned its home page to give it a G+-like feel and announced a Gmail revamp with some of the same flavor. But there are aspects of the service that, while neat, feel positively un-Googley. Especially the playful Circles interface, which was designed by legendary interface guy Andy Hertzfeld. As Wired’s Steven Levy explained it in his excellent behind-the-scenes look at Google+:

Traditionally, Larry Page has been a blood foe of “swooshy” designs and animations geared to delight users. He feels that it such frills slow things down. But Page has signed off on the pleasing-pixel innovations in Circles, including a delightful animation when you delete a circle: It drops to the bottom of the screen, bounces and sinks to oblivion. That animation adds a few hundred milliseconds to the task; in the speed-obsessed Google world that’s like dropping “War and Peace” on a reading list. “I’ve heard in the past that Larry Page he didn’t like animations but that didn’t stop me from putting in a lot of animations in, and Larry told me he loves it.” says Hertzfeld. “Maybe Apple’s resurgence had a little bit to do with it.” In any case, Google has recently tapped Hertzfeld as the design leader of the Emerald Sea team.

The Circles interface isn’t just strikingly different from classic Google–it’s also a departure from Facebook, which has always fulfilled its mission of being a “social utility” in part by erring on the side of being straightforward, not gimmicky. If people like it–and they seem to!–will existing and upcoming Google services show its idiosyncratic influence?

Can G+ make a serious dent in Facebook?

Throughout tech history, great new things have come along and trounced once-great old things. But almost always, the new thing has succeeded partially because the old thing did itself in through arrogance, complacency, confusion, or a combination thereof. Facebook makes its share of blunders–maybe more than its share–but it’s awfully good at bouncing back. Google+ might do just fine with a fraction of Facebook’s users–it could be the Bing of social networks–but it really feels like it wants to be the primary social network for an enormous number of people. People who are presumably already on Facebook. Even if G+ gets better and better, will it be alluring enough to prompt a mass Facebook exodus?

Will it make a dent in Twitter?

Most of the discussion of who gets hurt (maybe) by G+ involves Facebook. But hey–it’s already more powerful than Twitter (no 140-character limit!), and has characteristics in common with it, too.

What if it turns out to be a modest success?

Robert Scoble, who makes his living by rushing into new Web services and telling the rest of us what they mean, thinks that neither yo momma nor yo daddy is going to like Google+, at least in its initial form. He’s okay with that, but I’d imagine that Google will be very disappointed if G+ doesn’t catch on with the masses. What if it turns out to be of interest mostly to the Scobles, would-be Scobles, social-media fans, geeks, and tinkerers? Will Google still invest a lot of energy in it, or will it let it fester à la something like Google Groups?

What does this mean for Google’s relationship with the rest of the social-networking world?

Google’s Realtime Search–a neat service which the company announced back in 2009 with great fanfare–is either dead or in limbo. The official story is that Google took it offline because an agreement with Twitter lapsed, and while I’m not saying that’s not the truth, it’s surely not the whole story. I don’t think anything sneaky is going on, but I wonder if Google will try as hard to index other social networks if it sees them as more direct competition–and whether they’ll be as anxious to get be indexed by Google.

What next?

Sorry to come back to the comparison to Bing again, but like Microsoft’s search engine, Google+ has to improve at a particularly rapid clip to stay relevant. If it’s pretty much the same service in even three months that it is now, it won’t get the same glowing reviews that have greeted it so far.

I’m going to continue to use Google+ and think about it. If you’re over there already, you can find me here, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.



71 Comments For This Post

  1. John Baxter Says:

    It's much more likely that I'll try Google+ than that I will try Facebook (where I've never been).

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  7. Charles Forsythe Says:

    I have one question: can a contact be in more than one circle? I realize that this complicates things, but I can't imaging this making it very far if the answer is "no."

    For example, I have friends, I have coworkers and I have coworkers who are also friends. If I put them in the coworkers' circle, they miss all the personal stuff. If I put them in the friends circle, they miss all the work-related stuff.

  8. Harry McCracken Says:

    Yep, you can put people in multiple circles. You, for instance, I might put in both a High School Buddies circle and one for people who know Z-80 Assembler…


  9. Reece Wood Says:

    Personally, I'm getting bored of Facebook. I've recently started using Twitter a lot more, which is less of a bore because it's new to me. So, if there are more people like me out there, I can't see why the masses wouldn't want to at least try Google+ when it becomes available to the public. And, if a lot of people you know are trying it; there's no reason why it couldn't surpass Facebook. Eventually.

  10. SF wallpaper Says:

    I totally agree with you brother. Facebook has become a fad…nothing substantial anymore

  11. @avikaps Says:

    1 when you upload a new Profile pic, Earlier pic displayed in the previous comments and post…!!
    2. Sending an invite is and abnormal thing…!!
    3 Its a blending of twitter and fb some friends are in your circle and you are not in their…this is not a good social network

  12. Susan Says:

    It would be nice to try but since we have to be invited I believe this will severely limit the masses getting involved. After all not everyone knows someone who is on the service.

  13. thistlesandweeds Says:

    I really enjoy G right now. I think these are some interesting questions, but I disagree with the statement that G “forces” you to put people in circles. You could just as easily put them all in a “people” gircle & totally ignore the “friends” “family” etc… circles. That’s one of the best things about G , no one can see which circle you’ve put them in, so it won’t matter what the circle is called. It’s quite intuitive.

    I don’t see it as trying to compete w/ facebook or twitter. I think it’s a different platform designed for a different user. It seems to take all the best of what we’ve seen/used and adds some new ingenuity. All those “I wish facebook would…” are included in G .

    I think Gogle has fallen back on the successful rollout of gmail. That was an invite only thing for quite some time and it worked really well. It’s nice to see Google remember that with the rollout of G

  14. Radicke Says:

    hey, did I just miss the +1 Button on this page or is there none?

  15. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Looks like you can add people to your "circles" without their approval.

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  18. IcyFog Says:

    Sorry Harry, but this article means nothing to me because like you said, "Google+ still isn’t open to the general public."
    I stopped reading after that.

  19. Harry McCracken Says:

    Hey, IcyFog, I get it–and sometimes I don’t write about things until they’re generally available, because I know they’re most relevant then. In this case, though, I think that G+ is interesting enough that it’s worth writing about now. But it’ll be cooler once it’s open to all. (For now, if you go to you can put yourself on a waitlist–and Google does seem to be letting people in in drips and drabs.)


  20. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Not opening it at the get go (should have been a silent beta) will mean that FB will quickly add any noteworthy competitive features (market leaders copy) and G+ will not create the 'wave' it could have.

    Marketing 101 fail.

  21. Stb Says:

    Although you seem like a hater or someone not invited yet to me, would like to state the obvious.

    One thins is copying, and another is embrace, create, and expand, simple idea facebook have been missing during its 5 years running, what makes you think FB can make what google plus offer and better experience? if what they already offer isn't nearly the best out of social networking?, don't see where are you coming from with your nay nay stance.

    Biasing much I see.

  22. Krishna Shastry Says:

    Hi Harry,

    I think this article was extremely vague, full of speculations and guesses without touching any qualitative aspect in depth.

    Of course you know a lot more than I do, but the point is you did not cover many points in your article that people would be interested in.

    Kindly check my blog where I picked several flaws in Facebook and was hoping that G+ has solutions. I am a member of G+ from past few days, and not overly happy after seeing it. I am planning o write more about this in my blog during coming weekend.

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    Again, I would really appreciate if you could cover more finer level features or points, compare them with Facebook, talk about possible innovations in G+ etc. instead of being vague.


  23. Stb Says:

    "Looks like you can add people to your "circles" without their approval."

    Better than being a girl and having thousand of friend request from strangers? which you will have to swim through just to find those friends of yours? or being also swallowed by messages or strangers asking to accept them? have been there done that, i dont see how this is a bad thing, it makes work easier for people actually, you fallow who you are interested to or want to, but fallowing or adding to your circles doesn't automatically give you the approval of seeing your pictures or info if you don't want to.

    "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.) "

    You still can, if desired you can share with public proposal or with varies circles, don't see where is the problem here, G+ is everything facebook and twiter are, and more. nuff said.

    Btw, plus button needed, never felt the need or good of hitting the like button since none of my pals are interested in what I tend to read, but +1 for the article.

    You can make them private to the circles you know only or viceversa.

  24. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Umm, no. It means that you don't get to reject beforehand being added by strangers. This will be a "feature" the Google quickly removes.

  25. Stb Says:

    That is why the circles idea is so well crafted mate.

    The question, isn't the problem of being added by strangers the fact that you don't want them to see your info, or simply stalk you?, the way circles function (if you actually know what i mean), makes the stalker or stranger point pretty moot. something most social network lack about, for example,I already got a bunch of stranger having me in their circles, yet they cannot see my profiles, about me, etc since that is exclusive to my friend circles, family circles, etc, so why bother rejecting?

  26. peter b Says:

    I can immediately think of several circles that I'd use. Friends, Family, Work Colleagues.
    Having the Work Colleagues circle could be a career saver for some folks who share indiscreetly.

  27. Stb Says:

    Feel you there, it is a job savior for me too xD.

  28. peter b Says:

    I'm hanging out to check out G+ since I already use Google Docs, Gmail, Calendar.
    The circles concept sounds exactly like what I've been wanting in Facebook.

  29. peter b Says:

    This limited – invitation only rollout was the way they started out with Gmail

  30. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Right. It was a new gig. This isn't. It is Google trying to play catch up. Different marketing problem. They are using the wrong strat.

  31. peter b Says:

    I don't like the sound of "I can follow you without permission".
    Really ? People can see what I'm posting without me allowing that ?
    Any more details ?

  32. Stb Says:

    No, they cannot see what you post if you don't want to, nor your info, not your profile, no, nothing about you if you desire to.

    For example you share something, you can tag it publicly, or via extend circles which only people you have in your circles can seen.

  33. Stb Says:


    Something tweeter fail at doing, again, G+ is everything Facebook and Twitter offer and a lot more.

  34. peter b Says:

    thanks for the info. that makes sense.

  35. Janice Says:

    I have a question: can you hide circles from each other? One of the things I dislike so much about FB is the lack of privacy. It uses my real name and people tag real pictures of me there. So I keep my FB circle limited to people I know face-to-face; family, local friends, and friends that have moved to other states, etc.

    I also have a large circle of friends I've met online through platforms like Livejournal and Dreamwidth. I try not to mix my FB identity with my LJ identity, because, while I like my LJ friends very much, I don't necessarily want them knowing my real name. Similarly, I don't necessarily want my family reading some of the things I post on LJ.

    Does Google+ allow you to keep your circles separate from each other, even to the point of one circle not knowing that another exists? In facebook, you can see a list of everyone who's a friend of your friend. Is there the same kind of openness/lack of privacy in Google+?

  36. John OÇonnor Says:

    1. You can hide circles completely on your profile within G+, Including those following you and those you are following.

    2. G+ circles force you to categorize people and work MUCH better then facebook's lists/groups

    3. Come over and try it out here is my invitation link…

    There are plenty of tutorials and useful people on G+ that will help you get the most of your experience. One of the great pluses is all the current and future google product integration. AND they got the privacy settings RIGHT out the door

  37. Geoff Stevens Says:

    Great analysis of Google +. I think everyone is excited about it right now, but as time fades, I see that happening to Google+. There will always be people that use it, probably in the millions, but if it doesn't get past the tech bloggers, and online junkies (like myself) then it will be moved into the background like Wave and Buzz. Facebook does a good job of appealing to everyone, stay at home moms, the business professionals, you name it. When stay at home moms and people outside the tech industry start using Google+, then you know they're onto something. IMHO. Thanks Harry!

  38. John OÇonnor Says:

    The are quite a few stay at home moms who are on there already.. As for business outside of Tech, that will happen soon enough as the Business profiles roll out. I and many Brands, Companies and GApps Business users are definitely waiting for this unveiling.

    Remember G+ is still in a semi-closed Beta status… But new features are being brought in with each passing day. I think Google may have finally gotten the Social Network concept right this time.

  39. Anil Says:

    Now I am confused which is better ….

  40. Q-P1x3l Says:

    Google+ seemed good till it got its head on backwards and started trying to deanonymize the internet. That single move (asking people to use their reali life names as their profile names) plus the stupidity behind validating the same (asking for pictures of govt. issued ids) has practically shown foolish they can get. Even if Google+ ever overtakes FB it is not going to be before the Mayan Doomsday clock runs out…

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