I got my Google+ invite back in July (Thanks Derek) but it's been quite a busy summer so I put off getting to know Google+ until now. Being the big Google/Android fan I am, this is long overdue. In this post I write up my first impressions. You can get to Google+ by going to http://plus.google.com.
My first reaction after getting into it was very reserved. I found myself making lots of comparisons to Facebook. Indeed it is very similar to Facebook on the surface. For example, Google+ has a "+1" option which is the same as a Facebook "Like". I expect that the as I use Google+ more (I just started yesterday) I will start to see all the differences between Google+ and Facebook.
The first thing you'll notice about Google+ is that it is very oriented towards circles. This will be your way of categorizing relationships. I love this because I like to keep my friends from being bombarded by all the geeky stuff I do at work and I like to keep my professional relationships from being exposed to all the photos of my cute kids. I do have friends that are both professional and personal. I can expose them to all of it by putting them in more than one circle!
Circles are a great way to control your privacy.
Steam is the status feed of information from all your relationships.
Google+ has your typical chat. However, you can set your availability based on your circles. So you can only make chat available to your closest friends or professional groups for example. I like this because I always had a Facebook friend online trying to chat with me late at night. While I wanted to keep this friend, I didn't want to chat every night before bed! Disclaimer: as of 8/31/11, I found this service not working correctly (due to sync issue?). This occurs when you have Gmail and Google+ logged in at the same time.
Hangouts are chat rooms where you can video conference using your webcam. It's pretty cool.
Sending a Message to a Friend
It wasn't immediately obvious to me how to send a message to a friend. Let's just say I've been brainwashed by Facebook. With Google+ you simply enter the message you want to send at the top of your stream. You can set what group or person you want to send it to. You can use the "+" symbol in your message and start typing the friends name to send to an individual friend. Then hit share. Be sure "Public" is not selected...I noticed at times that public was selected by default. I'm guessing that can be adjusted somewhere.
I haven't used the huddle yet but I understand it is a way to collectively communicate with friends when you are "on the go". For example, if you're meeting a group of friends some where, you can use huddle to organize the group better and call audibles if necessary.
This is a way to see news feeds based on your interests. I haven't found the value in this yet. But then again, I haven't had much success with most personalized news feeds I've encountered before.
You will find Google+ closer to a typical social networking system than some of the more recent Google collaborative attempts (i.e. Buzz and Wave). In fact, Google+ is quite promising. I recommend to start by organizing your circles. These will be important for getting the best from your Google+ experience. Next, make sure your privacy settings are set appropriately to your needs.
As with any social network, be careful about what you share and be careful with strangers! Other than that, enjoy!