What’s Up With Google+: A beginner’s guide

I’m sorry, Google. I know I called you evil in my last post. Compared to Facebook though, you’re like Little Orphan Annie. Now that you’re teasing me with the delicious field trial of Google+, let’s be friends again. Readers, here’s what you need to know.

For starters, everything you’ve heard is true. Google+ is a lot like Facebook. You’ve got your profile, your friends, and your photos. At its core, is there all that much else to the big F?

Hey, this looks familiar…

Well, yes. Facebook is a place to create events and meet with like-minded individuals or make fun of friends by creating pages and groups. At the moment, Google+ doesn’t have these options, but it does have a lot of other bonuses:

– Integration with Google Chat. I HATE Facebook chat. I’ve always found it clunky. I’m on gchat 99% of the time anyway, and so are all of the people I talk to on a daily basis.
– Integration with Picasa. Facebook photos is certainly prolific, but the quality is crap-tastic. Picasa allows better quality photos and gives you the ability to do a lot of basic editing through their Picnik site.
Hangouts. This is really awesome. You can get together with up to 10 of your friends/acquaintances/business partners/etc and do a group video chat. It’s also integrated with youtube, so you can all watch the same video and comment on it despite being a million miles apart. All you have to do is click the “Start a hangout” button and let G+ know who you want to hang out with. It will pop up a message on their feed (and send a notification if you invite less than 25 people) and they can join you. Simple!

Click the “Start a hangout” button in the right sidebar and the above notification appears in your friends’ feeds!

Sparks. Not really social, but kind of neat. You can enter things that you’re interested in and Google will add these topics to your left sidebar so you can easily find fascinating new tidbits of information. You can then share these with your friends. So, kind of social.
Circles. Basically groups of people, but with a pretty interface. You can put people in multiple circles and use them to share photos, articles, or whatever else with only certain subsets of your friends.
Privacy. Definitely Facebook’s weak point, and hopefully Google’s big win. Despite one issue found already (and an annoying but effective way to counter it), Circles seems like a pretty good way of doing things, and the entire platform is geared around which Circles you want to share things with. There’s a nice degree of control here that isn’t as present on Facebook. No one can tell what circle you’ve added them to either, so your “best friend” won’t know you stuck her in the “Vile Wenches” group. But yeah, basically just make sure you disable reshares if you really don’t want something to get out of whatever circle you shared it with.

– There are also a couple of really nice mobile features like group chat and instant upload.
– And of course +1. You didn’t really think that was going away, did you?

You can find more information on the Google+ help page, but this should be a pretty good summary of the features.

So why shouldn’t you switch over to Google+? Well, there’s no integration with any sort of event planning, although you could always use the Google Calendar for that. There aren’t any groups in the way that Facebook has them, so you won’t be able to be the 1 billionth member of “This pickle has more fans than Nickelback” (aw, no longer exists).

But this is just the field test. I hope Google takes this as an opportunity to really pull the Google Suite together, integrating it with everything from Calendar to Google Docs. If all of my stuff was in one place and so were all of my friends, I would never use another platform again. Although, in the wise words of xkcd: