By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz. Not the Google Buzz, mind you (one of Google’s less successful endeavours)—but rather the buzz about Google+, the tech monolith’s answer to Facebook. The new site has only been online for about a week now, but already everyone, it seems, is weighing in.
It should be noted, however, that Google+ is still in field testing, and invitations to join are very limited. Writing for Maclean’s, Jesse Brown pointed out that “it’s obvious that there are tons of features within the service that Google is not pushing or even unveiling yet, for fear of scaring users off with too much complexity.” Sure enough, Google+ is still pretty barebones and not unlike Facebook in terms of usability, but as Brown made clear, it’s not about selling flash and dazzle, “as they did with the ill-fated Google Wave.” No, the path to ubiquity is a road less often taken; it’s a subtle path, one that Brown is convinced Google is treading. The aim is to feel natural, obvious even.
That’s what the top bar is all about. A friend of mine who blogged about the bar thinks it’ll be key to making Plus Google’s first successful social media venture. Let’s say you’re just in Gmail (if you’re anything like me, Gmail is always open); well, if you have a Plus account, there’s a number at the top right that’ll turn red whenever you have new notifications—again, not unlike Facebook. The difference is that it’s right in your e-mail, begging to be clicked.
The other upper hand the Internet community is buzzing about is Google’s approach to privacy, which many are calling superior to Facebook’s. Whenever you add someone new, you categorize them in a “circle.” The default circles are Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following, and you can easily add more custom ones. Then, when you post something, Plus asks you what circles you want to share it with. Don’t want Family to see that picture of you guzzling a two-six last weekend? Easy peasy, and obvious.
But of course, there are many more features to come, and to be judged. It’s hard to imagine dropping Facebook for a social medium that doesn’t yet let users create events, for example. Nonetheless, word on the silicon street is that there’s a storm coming. And no doubt Mark Zuckerberg, who also just happens to be by far the most popular person on Google+, is watching.