So last night I got an invite into Google+, the new social networking apparatus that Google has put together, and I figured I would write about my basic impression of the more interesting features.
Circles are essentially a tagging mechanism for the people you add to your profile. You can create circles as categories of people (such as Friends, Aquantiences, Coworkers, etc), and then you can add people to as many of the circles as you feel is appropriate.
One of the cool things about circles is that you can then filter your “stream” (think of it as your news feed) to only view those notifications from people in that specific circle. That way you can add the 300 people that you sorta know, but not have to see when that one guy you don't really know walks his dog every day.
Circles have a lot of potential for filtering privacy options and notifications, and I find them to be incredibly intuitive to use.
This is by far my favorite aspect of the entire Google+ system. A hangout is essentially a video conferencing session that is dynamically created that you can invite people to. This can be inviting specific friends, inviting entire circles, inviting your circles and the circles in those circles (known as extended circles), or just opening the hangout to the entire public.
Once in the hangout, I had probably one of the best video conferencing experiences I've ever had. First off, the whole thing is based on the GTalk video plugin, which thankfully is supported on Windows, Mac, as well as Linux, and is much more efficient than Flash. Secondly, the conferencing does automatic microphone normalization (adjusting everyone's mics so that they all have a similar volume level so no one person is super loud and others are really quiet). Also, the video can be set to display on the “main section” the person who is presently talking.
Another cool feature of hangouts is the ability to share YouTube videos. One person can go to a youtube video, and everyone will be notified of it and can watch the video with them. I haven't personally had an opportunity to try it yet, but it sounds awesome!
Obviously not everything is perfect, as this is still in closed beta, but the system seems solid and is quite frankly a lot of fun to play around with. I could see myself using this more than I do Facebook provided that they keep their more slick and less cluttered feel to it.
Obviously once it's out of beta there will be some shots to it as it will have things like ads put on it, but being that it's Google adding the ads, and they've been quite good at making advertisements non-intrusive and seem more as part of the content as opposed to an annoyance, I don't think that will be much of an issue.
There are some minor bugs (such as the app pinging non-stop for every notification I received, and the Youtube sharing not working), that's to be expected in a beta.
To be honest my only real concern is that they'll leave the system invite-only for too long and the hype will die down, or sites like Facebook will take the best parts of Google+ and implement them before release. Hopefully this doesn't go the way of the Google Wave project.
All in all I like it a lot. It seems like a great way to tie all of Google's account services under a single banner. For ages they've had GTalk, GMail, Picasa, Youtube, Buzz, Latitude, and so on as separate projects tied into a Google account, but they always felt somewhat disconnected from each other. I hope and expect that Google+ is their way of taking the best features of those projects and putting them together in a meaningful way.
Circles are awesome for relevant filtering
Hangouts are absolutely the best free video conferencing experience I've had.
Still has some kinks to work out, but looks awesome so far!