Google +

Getting an invitation to Google +, if you’re interested in social media at all, feels like finding a golden ticket to the Wonka factory. It’s rare, and when you finally get it, you access an exclusive space that probably few among your Facebook friends are privy too. In my case, I have 100+ FB friends, yet only about 7 are on Google+. The reason is pretty simple: Google is throttling access to their social media platform. Yesterday, July 6th, they opened up a brief window of opportunity. Their aim was to double their user base. They must have achieved their goal very quickly, as the window shut down within hours.

I managed to get on the platform. An invite that had been sent to me on July 5th finally made it through, and now I’m part of the beta test group. I was able to send out a couple of invites, but as far as I can tell, only two people were able to join. I also tried a workaround posted on cnet. Still waiting to hear on that one as well, and I have serious doubts that it still works. In the mean time, this is my take on Google +.

Beta testing hype: When restriction translates into interest.

Google beta tests are not always restricted. In fact, anyone can go to Google Labs and test out their prototypes. We hardly ever hear about low profile projects, like Google Transliteration, Follow Finder, or Google Body, and for good reason. Many ideas probably don’t make it past the initial testing phase. In the meantime, though, we are helping Google with our free labor as beta testers. In return, we get to play around with prototypes.

Google’s high profile launches are another matter.  Gmail and Google Wave, for example, were both tested under an invite only model.  Gmail started as a very restricted service. Invitations were hard to come by, as Google only allowed its users to invite two additional people to the test, according to the Boston Globe. For Google Wave,  the company invited 6,000 developers to the beta test, and then rolled out the product to an additional 100,000 users.  I was never able to get an invite for Gmail, but I did manage to finagle one for Google Wave. It just wasn’t what I expected, and I jumped off the wave within a week. I wasn’t the only one, apparently, as Google abandoned Google Wave last year.

Restricting the beta test certainly keeps Google from exceeding its capacity to sustain a social network. Yet it also achieves something else. The restriction just makes Google + more desirable. The early adopters do a great deal of word of mouth marketing for Google. We write about our experience on the site, and we offer our invites to Facebook friends. The truth is that we want them on Google +, because the whole point of a social networking platform is to be social. If none of our friends are on Google+, who are we supposed to interact with?

Right now, we all seem to be hanging out with other geeks, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Everett Rogers, author of Diffusion of Innovations, described the process whereby innovations, new ideas, and new technologies spread. According to Rogers, one can categorize individuals according to their innovativeness, that is, their willingness to try an innovation. The first category, which Rogers calls “innovators” is made up by individuals who are willing and able to take greater risks. What makes them innovators, though, is not merely the fact that they can take risks. It is the fact that they have access to the innovation before anyone else, often because they have social contacts with the creators of the innovation. In this case, we should consider technology bloggers, like Pete Cashmore or Leo Laporte, to fit this category.

The next category is the early adopter. Like the innovators, they are willing and able to test out the innovations, but unlike the first group, early adopters lack the direct access to the epicenters of innovation. They are just chomping at the bit to get in, however, and when they do, early adopters are key. They do a lot of the leg work that leads to higher adoption rates of the innovation. In the case of Google+, early adopters like myself are not only testing out features on the site. We are also actively trying to get our friends into Google+. Don’t be surprised when some of your FB friends start posting messages on their wall, offering to send invites to whomever wants them. That’s how Google+ will spread for the time being.

One of the interesting things about the launch of Google+ has been the sporadic availability of the invites. Indeed, Google+ opens up the site, enables users to invite friends, and then clamps down again. No one knows when this bursts Google generosity will happen, or how long the portal will remain open. It can be a few hours or barely minutes, which is why the Los Angeles Times suggests that if you want be an early adopter for Google+, your best bet is to check the Google+ site periodically. Perhaps then you’ll get lucky.

Google + features: My favorite things (of the one’s I’ve actually tried)

By now, there are dozens of reviews about Google + features. Circles and hangouts are the most popular. Circles is essentially a different way of organizing the people you follow. By default, Google+ gives you four categories, friends, family, acquaintances, and following. The labels are self explanatory, but in case you miss it, Google+ provides you with a definition of what they mean by these terms. Friends, for example, are “your real friends, the ones you feel comfortable sharing private details with,” whereas Following is people you don’t know at all.

You can argue that Facebook and Twitter also allow you to create different categories and lists of friends, followers, and people you follow. However, I’ve found working with Twitter lists is very awkward. Groups, though arguably better, is not drag and drop, and this is where circles is far easier to use. Circles is drag and drop, and you can create as many circles as you wish.

Sharing is also designed with reminders about privacy in mind. In fact, you can’t post anything to Google+ without specifying how it will be shared. Public makes it available on your public profile, and copies everyone who has added you to their circles. Yet you can also choose to share only with your friends, coworkers, family, bowling team, or whatever combination of groups and people you wish. Again, Facebook has something similar, but it is not built into the sharing mechanics, and you don’t have to specify how your posts will be shared.

Perhaps my favorite feature is the ability to edit my posts after the fact. I can add, delete, and correct anything, no matter how long ago it was posted. There is a glitch, though: the edit function does not work with photo albums. That is something that I hope Google+ will fix.

As for hangouts, I haven’t been able to test them out yet. The people at Mashable describe hangouts as “Google+ killer feature” . Even without testing it out, the ability to video chat with 10 people at one time is much better than what Facebook has to offer.

There was also one thing that puzzled me at first, the incoming feed. I didn’t get the point of having it. Essentially, the incoming feed holds posts that are shared with you by people who are not in your circles. Right now, it is of no use to me, as everyone seems to be sharing within their circles. Eventually, I’m guessing that it will be come the spam feed, and I like the idea of not having to deal with the spammers that plague my Twitter profile.

With the deluge of information about Google+, I think it’s more useful to wrap up this post by sharing some resources about the new social platform. Here they are:

Reviews:

  1. Google+ First Impressions (Mashable)
  2. 9 Things Google+ Needs for me to ditch Facebook (PC World)
  3. Google+: 5 Features and Drawbacks (PC World)
  4. First Impressions of Google+ (Hackcollege)
  5. Google+ vs Facebook: See how they compare (PC World)
Privacy issues:
  1. Google + may carry dangers for photographers (The Washington Post)
  2. Gearing up for Google+Privacy Settings (The Wall Street Journal)
How To’s, Tips, Tricks, Add Ons, and Other Goodies
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