So what is Google+? It's Google's social networking site, its answer to Facebook if you will. Now, you may be thinking to yourself there are loads of social networking sites out there and new ones regularly, on a local, national and international level. The internet is completely saturated with these sites and everyone wanting a slice of the social pie [which sounds like a dodgy pie].
How does Google+ stand out? Well first and foremost it's from Google. Google is no longer just a search engine, it's gone as far as to become a word integrated into our daily dialect. When you're online you'll often hardly notice it, it's beautifully transparent. A lot of us may not even realise just how much our Google account knows about us and how much it affects our online experience. From simple and obvious things like news specific to us and our local weather, down to more "under the hood" activity. Those ads you see with youtube videos, on various message boards, auction sites and to the right of this very article, have you ever noticed that these ads aren't as random as they were 6 or 7 years ago? Well it's simply due to google monitoring your online activity; in a good way mind you, not the paranoid conspiracy theory way, and they use this monitoring to tailor the ads to suit you. Someone else logs in on your computer and boom, the ads are changed.
Why is this relevant to Google+ vs Facebook? Well, that's just one aspect of Google's monolithic size and influence on the internet. As big as Facebook? It's just that. Facebook doesn't leave the boundaries of it's virtual url plastered walls. Google on the other hand is like a faithful dog companion, except with a notepad, writing down what you're doing while telling you current breaking news headlines. You get my point.
Google has obviously been planning this for quite sometime, it's safe to say this was in the works even before Facebook but Google took their time and, rather then releasing a service and building on it, they simply watched their market and users and built a solid product to be released and blow people away. Now, obviously they will still tailor to feedback but it means that if you make the switch your now on a fully fledged and independent platform, you're not sitting around waiting for it to grow into itself. You may think that this would leave for a learning curve to Google+ but it hasn't, they have made getting started pretty simple, with a helping hand and videos to show you the ins and outs.
Now down to the pros and cons. Bear in mind I've only been using Google+ for a day at this stage and due to the small number of my friends on it I have yet to test many of the social services and group settings but saying that, this is from Google and most of these services are simply tweaked versions of already widely used and loved services they provide so I'm not too worried about technical difficulties.
Integration - this is the big one, as most of us will have a Gmail, Youtube account and some other form of google account. These will all be integrated into one, you can update all your accounts from any accounts with one simple click. While a lot of this has been available on Facebook like Twitter and Youtube integration it has never been this tailored, smooth and useful. You can switch between all your regular pages that are on the one account and not have to log in or out. You no longer log in on individual pages, you simply log in your Google account and then all sites recognise you.
You'll actually have a solid individual online presence for once. It's pretty awesome. A good example is that the chat on Google+ is the same as to the left when you're checking your email and on Google chat etc and it's all in real time. Oh Facebook and Twitter are already linkable.
Multiple Log ins- This is a great idea, something that I have been dying to see incorporated into Facebook: Being able to log in with more then one account at a time! Google+ allows you to do this seamlessly. Why is this useful? Well for the majority of people it's useful for when friends are over and they want to check their Facebook [Check my Plus?]. They can simply log in and use their account and you can switch between the two at anytime. I'm not sure if there is a limit to how many you can have logged in at once but I can't imagine anyone ever needing much more then 5 or 6.
Where this really comes in useful is for business orientated users. I have a band page, a DJ page, a record label page, a personal page and a made up page that I use to tell my friends what I really think of them. Anyway, this suddenly makes it so much faster and quicker for me to get through all my work and social networking. As a musician, I don't want to be constantly logging in and out of pages to update, cross check, transfer info etc. I want to be using that time for more constructive purposes. I'm sure you're probably already thinking of how this can be used for yourself. Great feature.
Circles - On facebook you had friends and that was it. They later added lists but seeing as you already had a friends list of 300+ [seems to be average although it's not uncommon for over 1000] it was too late re-organise. I'm sure you didn't want to go sorting through that list to establish who was who and add them to relevant lists. Although Facebook does have a similar option, Google does it from the word go and so much better. The fact that it's from the word go is extremely important, I can't stress this enough. It means that you start sorting people as you connect with them, not after. It's also a big feature of Google+, possibly the biggest yet, while with facebook lists is a feature a lot of people don't even know exists.
It is also set up so that others can't tell what circle you've added them to, just that they are in one of your circles. This is ideal as you can have people as friends, then others as acquaintances, more as family and then a list for people that are unreal at wearing yellow, or such. I'm sure we all know someone that we class as an acquaintance but they obviously class you as a friend, the truth is you don't want to share every personal post with that person there are the posts that you'll be sending to your friends list. Again, Facebook does have this feature in lists so Google+ aren't being that creative but it's the execution of this feature, the seamless nature of the circles and the focus on it, that makes it work. So you can have difference posts for different circles [you select underneath a post which circles are added, your most used circle will come up by default but this is all changeable and very smoothly so]. That person can then add you to whatever list they want. You can also make your own lists so say you were a promoter organising nights in Dublin and Belfast, well you wouldn't want the Belfast people receiving info about a gig in Dublin. Although you're completely free to do so if you want to, of course.
Groups, hang out spots - This is going to be probably the main feature for most people. The hang out spots allow for a real online community feel and group chat that Facebook has been truly lacking in [sure in a group page you could have group chat but come on, it's awful]. This allows you to chat in real time with all your mates via text, audio or video! Most people's internet connections can handle a few video streams at a time now [generally a youtube video at 720p is more then like 3 or 4 streams so compare it to that]. Basically it's taking the best from forums, messengers, etc etc and cramming it all into one. It's solid.
It's clean - This is due to it being new, of course but Google are pretty damn good at fighting spam, I know we've all seen spam comments on Youtube but considering the sheer size of Youtube and the relative amount of spam, it's pretty impressive. Now of course this adds a whole new dimension of spam options than is available on Youtube, but it seems that Google might be more up to the job of creating a better, cleaner, platform for socialising. Just please, Google, never allow apps the privilege to post to friends walls, I really don't care if my friend needs a sweet new trowel in farmville. I just want to know what the 3 people I'm stalking are at dammit. Stalking circle? ...Ahem, never mind.
Android - Currently the fastest growing mobile OS, it's going to dominate pretty soon. It's even cheap, some phones running Android 2.2 are only 50 euro new on pay as you go! Android is owned by Google, so I don't think I need to explain how awesome this could become.
It suits everyone - Well, hopefully. Facebook always favoured personal pages, simple as. Google+ has a bit more of a professional air about it, it seems nearly a blend of LinkedIn and Facebook at times, which is awesome.
It's unknown - I still have yet to see much of it's features, such as band pages. Band pages are Myspace's life support, although considering the sheer saturation and transformation in myspace 2.0 it seems much more like a zombie now. Facebook fell flat on it's face for band pages, artists of any kind and businesses. While there was some great apps etc it just doesn't really cut it. I currently pay a monthly fee for my music pages which adds a huge amount to it, with a decent music player linked to my Soundcloud and visuals but that only appears when someones doesn't like the page, it just seems backwards. There is too much resistance from Facebook to let people have some control over their pages.
It's not customizable - Facebook is in the same boat but at least it has apps which might not do the job very well, or for everyone, but they give you something. Google+ doesn't have apps yet so it doesn't have any of this third party goodness, although a lot of third party apps are what is ruining Facebook, so it's a bit of tough one. Do you balance it by only allowing certain apps thus crippling much support and development? I can understand from a spam point of view and from trying to get less computer-savvy people on to a social networking site by taking away html customization but come on, at least give us something akin to Bebo where it's simply a few picture slots on your profile. A lot of people may think it a trivial thing but how did you feel about wearing a uniform at school? It may seem like a harsh comparison but it is a social networking site with your own personal page, so when not be able to actually make it your own?
It's still new - Very new. I hardly know anyone on it so a lot of the features are still hard for me to try out, and there is no guarantee that there will be a big flock over all of a sudden.
Is it too much? - This may be a problem for some, with the integration of all of Google's sites together and a seamless transition between them all on one account will this cause a relapse of people from sites outside Google's servers? Probably not for a lot of people, you have Wikipedia, other mail servers etc, but if Google+ does become the dominant de facto social networking site then new users to the net will flock to it, set up their account there and have less and less reason to leave the familiarity of google. Ironic, I'm sure, as it all stems from a search engine but think about it, people will have less and less reasons to leave. Imagine if Google bought Wikipedia? That'd be it for a lot of users. Truthfully, this probably isn't much of a threat and it might just mean there is an easy place for less computer friendly users to enjoy in familiar settings and allow other sites to grow in complexity and usefulness but it's still something to bear in mind.
Possible Pro for some/Con for others
Adsense - Google own Adsense so it's quite possible to see an integration into Google+ at some stage [this is why I didn't foam "AD FREE!!" as a pro in this post]. Why is this a good thing? Well, look at youtube partnership. If you are a regular video uploader then you can apply for Partnership. This will place ads on your video allowing you to generate ad revenue. This is a huge incentive for people to keep creating videos and keep the quality up, many of your favourite videos on youtube may very well have had less effort put into them, worse gear due to money or even not have existed at all if the ads were not there.
I'm sure embedded youtube videos will have the ads appear allowing the uploaders to generate revenue without having to force viewers over to Youtube. You could even comment, like, favourite etc from Google+ with it appearing on the actual Youtube video also, awesome eh? It also means that people making blog posts, posting pictures, creating games/apps or any other number of creative things to Google+ might be eligible for some sort of partnership. This could mean that third party support won't be nearly as dominant on Google+ and leave for a site full of lush user content. Now I haven't heard anything about this but I'd imagine it could be a possibility and, to be honest, it'd be great. Have you ever imagined making money off Facebook?
Why this would be a con for some are the ads, but you have to remember there is ads all over Facebook and if you really dislike them that much to can download a plug-in to block them.
Overall Google+ seems to be the better site, better thought out and more innovative, although there is no denying a lot of it is simply improving and building on Facebook. I'm well aware Facebook was very innovative seven years ago but I mean for recent times. I think a lot of why Google+ is better isn't even because it has better or newer features. I think it's because it's a fresh start. For a lot of people Facebook has been their longest social network, and for many their first. This lets them start over again and do it right from the start with organising friends so it doesn't become so cluttered. They should really take away the public figures on your page of how many are in your circles and how many circles you're in, that just creates petty competition, even more so then Facebook friends. If Google+ becomes the next big thing then I can imagine every fithth message being "Please add me to your circle, LOLBBQ".
The integration and the hang out spots is the real pull towards Google+ for me, it's also still early so changes are possible. It's just more practical for me as a user. I think it's too late for me and facebook as my contacts have become so cluttered, being able to add people to circles as opposed to a friend request leaves it a much more viable choice then starting over on facebook. With google having so much day to day usage stuff under it's belt, from it's prized search engine, to it's email service, to their own browser that many would use to log in, even down to the Google OS that some people's computers run on! Google have the chance to create something unlike any other.
The reality of it all is though is that it's too early to tell really, I'm sure Facebook has already started putting the finishing touches to some backlash to the features in Google+. This should be an interesting period for the internet but it ultimately comes down to the users and who migrates or not. I can see Google+ becoming a platform for the age group of 16 - 30, professionals and artist pages assuming they add in decent support and features; while Facebook will remain for everyone else, but will also include this demographic. It's hard to predict, maybe everyone will take a disliking to both and head back to Bebo.
Alright, maybe not that last one.