By now you’ve probably heard of Google+, the new social networking platform that Google hopes will rival Facebook. Right now, membership is by invitation only, much like Gmail was when it was first tested and introduced, but there are already at least ten million people there. I happen to be one of them, and after having several days to play on the site, I can make a few cursory remarks, even though I’m speaking more as a lay person and not as a social media expert. In fact — reactions of people like me may really be what they need to hear.
To begin with, Google+ seems cleaner than Facebook. The margins aren’t cluttered in quite the same heavy way, for example, and there’s more white space in general. Even the settings seem easier to manipulate. Some of this could change, of course, as Google+ adds more features, but for now it has a fresh, open look. The things you need are easily reachable by clicking on buttons or links, but they’re not all plastered on your front page.
Facebook’s appearance, on the other hand, has always been a little…haphazard. To some extent, that’s understandable, since the site began as a network primarily for students but in recent years has morphed itself into a platform trying to please the general public and especially, now, cater to business. That swift change has resulted in frequent alterations to the look and functionality of Facebook, though.
Many of these have been pointless, not improving the interface in any meaningful way (and sometimes making things more difficult), and only serving to make users mad. They get used to one Facebook “look” and way of functioning, only to find they have to get used to a new “look” and way of doing things a month later. And each change seems to open up a new privacy loophole, forcing users to reset their privacy settings (yet again) to close up the latest vulnerability.
Google appears to have watched all these comings and goings, learned what not to do from Facebook’s experiments, and gone on to create a networking site that is less haphazard. Its features are more unified, and don’t look like a bunch of different chunks glued on whenever a new thought struck, with makeshift links to get them all to communicate and work together. Things just seem to fit together more coherently. And ultimately, Google wants this networking platform to link with all its other services — Gmail, Picasa, Blogger, YouTube, and so on.
That, actually, will be the acid test of whether Google+ stays a coherent, organic whole, or turns into its own version of awkwardly connecting chunks. Already, Google’s services don’t all communicate that well with each other. So Google+ has the opportunity to draw them all into a seamless whole — or to become another platform that works just fine — by itself.
But so much for how the place looks and feels. A nice setting is all well and good, but prospective users want more than just a clean room and nice trim around the doors. The big question, in the end, is, “Just what does Google+ actually do?”
That will be a question for the next instalment, First Impressions of Google+ — What It Does. (See also the third and final installment, First Impressions of Google+ — What About Business?)