Welcome to day 2 of Early Days with Google+! Be sure to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already.
Sparks are a feature that I find highly compelling even though they seem pretty simple on the surface. Some people using Google+ compare it to Google Reader and wonder if Reader is going to be killed off, but my take is that Sparks is more of a grown-up version of Google Alerts.
They’re kind of a specialized Google Search. You can create any Spark you want; say for instance you’re REALLY into cats with unicorn horns. Create a Spark called “Cat With Unicorn Horn” and you’ll be treated to an up-to-date stream of content about it. Unlike a standard Google search, it doesn’t return all results for that search term – instead, it heavily prioritizes very recent news articles and blog posts about it so that you’re always getting fresh information instead of more static pages like Wikipedia.
I have quite a few Sparks created at this point, and they’re a joy to use. They haven’t replaced Reader for me, but they’re a pretty good companion to it.
Initial setup requires a plugin, but that went really fast and was pretty easy. After that things got even easier, at least on the technical side.
I’m a pretty extreme introvert who is uncomfortable with cameras to boot. So actually doing a Hangout was pretty tough; it took me days to bring myself to do it. Once I did though, it was pretty fantastic. I was able to specify what circles were alerted to the existence of the Hangout, so you’ve at least got some initial control. Once I was in the video was really nice, good quality, with good audio clarity even though nobody I was talking to set up a mic or headset.
It was a pretty cool feature where all of the video streams are shown in a line of little moving feeds across the bottom, with one person singled out for a large, prominent central display. By default the hangout itself selects who gets displayed in the big central place based on who’s speaking. That doesn’t really SOUND that impressive, but when you see it in action it’s incredibly smooth and makes conversations feel more natural and fluid.
My Hangout experience was with four of my fellow Livid Lobster crew, but the system supports up to 10 simultaneous users, with more being available to what I assume will be premium account types. And this is free? Sign me up! Even an introvert like me can get into something THIS slick.
The Missing Bits
As the title of this post states, this is early days for Google+. It launched just a week ago, so there are definitely features that could be added and some that SHOULD be added. Most come off as nitpicks though.
- The notifications are useful but incredibly attention-grabbing. Even though I’m not Mark Zuckerberg or Robert Scoble or Leo Laporte, I’ve got a LOT of activity happening on my account and it seems like the notification is always seeking my attention. I would love to see the ability to set custom notifications by circle so that I don’t have to see them for people in my “Following” circle but I do see them for other smaller circles.
- There are still some rough edges to the Circles experience that could be fixed. Right now it’s tricky to copy people from one circle into another; it’s doable, but requires several steps that could be eliminated.
- There’s no search! It’s the ultimate irony that the Google the Search Giant has no search for Google+, but there you go. I have to think this is just a feature that isn’t finished yet and so hasn’t been enabled for public accounts.
- While Android has a fantastic mobile client with features not present in the web version (like Huddle, group texting), iOS is currently lacking a client. It’s apparently going through the Apple app store approval process so keep your fingers crossed for the next few days or weeks.
We’ve already gotten some announcements regarding the future of Google+. Ben Parr wrote an exclusive on Mashable that Google’s Picasa and Blogger brands are being retired and rebranded as Google Photos and Google Blogs, respectively, and will be components of the larger Google+ ecosystem.
Another story that just came out paints a pretty picture of Google+; MG Siegler of TechCrunch reports absolutely staggering amounts of traffic coming their way from Google+ sharing, something they never saw from Google Buzz; in fact, he describes it as Google Buzz being a traffic black hole while Google+ is the Big Bang.
Myself, I’d say all of this shows that Google+ is no Buzz; it’s a roar.