Is Google+ Actually a Plus?

Google+ is the new social media sensation, and it’s attracting users by the millions. If you’re an early adopter and poised to drop Facebook and all of its headaches, think twice: Google+ is stillinbetaandthekinksare still being discovered and worked out. With Google’s previous forays into social media (remember Wave and Buzz? No? Me neither!), they have a lot riding on the success of Google+.

Virtual personal space
Google+’s biggest selling point so far is its Circles and Circle news streams. The ability to create Circles allows you to post in any combination you wish: from announcements to private messages, Google+ lets you choose which Circles you share news with. Likewise,youcan choose which news stream to read: either read everything as one large stream, or read the smaller Circle streams. They’re much easier to set up than Facebook’s Groups—partly because we’re all starting from scratch. Once (or, perhaps, if) Google+ becomes more populated, managing Circles will become a little more unwieldy. But for now, it’s the best way to make clear distinctions between the friends you share with, and the “friends” you’ve accumulated online.

Integration with other Google products
For individual Google users, this is shaping up to be really cool: the Google taskbaratthe top of every Google page now includes Google+. And there are Chrome extensions that allow you to integrate your Google+ experience throughout your browsing, so that you don’t have to keep a page open specifically to view your stream.But there are drawbacks to being so tethered to other Google products. Uploading photos to your Google+ account means using Picasa—which means your Flickr account (or whatever you use) will have to be transferred. And the chat feature is still being tinkered with, so you may see people in your chat list you’ve never seen before. Fortunately, disabling chat is easy enough—but it’s just one example of the features that are evolving.The Facebook factor
Despite the dozens of similarities, Google+ is not Facebook. For some users, this is a good thing: getting away from the ever-changing Facebook Terms of Service could provide more privacy in social media. Of course, there are already issues with Google+’s ToS: users are having their accounts suspended or deleted altogether for not using their real names, and businesses who set up accounts have had them deleted. So the integration of social media and advertising appears to be on hold. Everyone assumes that Google’s AdSense will play a major role in Google+, but it’s a feature that hasn’t shown up and hasn’t been previewed…so, anything could happen.

Right now, Google+ is a new toy on the Internet’s playground, and the attention it’s getting from users seems to be intensifying every day. But now that there’s a decent group of users, Google should concentrate on refining and fixing Google+ to make it ready for prime time. It’s a great new social, but to make a real place for itself, Google+ will have to start to evolve, and fast.