If it hasn’t happened already then I’m guessing you’ll be deluged with articles about Google Plus in the coming days. Most articles will fall into two camps: those that think this is all about social networks – a guaranteed turn off for many I know – and those that see a bigger picture. I’m in the second camp as are many of my enterprisey colleagues. What we see is something that could turn out to be very good for small businesses. But only if Google gets this right.
So what is Google Plus and why should you care? At one level, Google Plus is a social network of sorts. The two major features that matter are Circles and Hangout. Circles is a way of organising contacts, colleagues, friends, whomever into categories that make sense for you. That’s the social network part of the equation. Those groups are private to you. You can put people in any group(s) you like. So for example I have some in more than one category because they straddle topics in which I have an interest. That allows me to share things of interest to whole groups OR individuals and receive comment back. In a professional environment that might for example allow you to categorise according to industry specialty, high wealth, consulting, trust management and so on…you get the picture.
Ryan Singel neatly describes how it works:
Like the familiar Facebook, users see a stream of posts from people in their network, and you can filter it by which circle you want to concentrate on — say your book club, or family or fellow windsurfers. You can easily share photos — and the service naturally integrates closely with Google’s picture hosting site Picasa.
Here’s some help from Google about circles you might find useful.
Hangout is a form of video conferencing cum chat that is similar to Skype but not quite the same. In Hangout, you can add up to 10 people to a conference. That’s more useful than Skype which restricts you to a 1-2-1 video chat unless you want to pay for their premium services. Think about partner or manager meetings between remote locations. Or how about small scale web confererncing with select clients on a specialised topic? Or how about small scale instructional conferences?
Both these features on their own would be enough to spark my interest in Google Plus as a potential alternative to Twitter AND Facebook. From a business standpoint, they just make sense. But what for me is an altogether much more interesting prospect is the slim black bar that sits at the top of the Google Plus page. It includes links to all my usual Google applications like GMail and Google Reader on the left. But on the right hand side it includes a notifications panel which tells me when there are things that could be of interest to me such as a new post or comment. I can choose to dig deeper into what’s been notified or just leave until I am ready to review. That bar also sits on my GMail account which I keep open all the time so it is readily accessible.
I am starting to use Google Plus to selectively share items from Google Reader. The image shows something related to SAP that I shared with everyone. As you can see, Ike Nassi (who is one of the scientists behind SAP’s advanced technologies) has acknowledged the piece. This works independently of Google Reader where I share items with those who choose to subscribe to my feed. For me, this facility inside Google Plus is providing a way to granularly share items of topical interest which is probably better than splurging material via Google Reader.
Google Plus is in highly controlled release so even if you have a Google account you may not be able to get access. It has plenty of bugs, as you’d expect from an initial release. It hasn’t been rolled out to those who use GAPE which is a pity but understandable given some of the complexities likely to be involved. Google still has to iron out its privacy issues and it is not at all clear what the business model will look like. If it is ads based then I will be disappointed. I’d prefer to pay for this service as I suspect many GAPE users would. However, it has enough by way of function to keep me interested in ways that Buzz didn’t.
If you have access then I encourage you to give it a go and let me know what you think. If not then ping me and I’ll try get you in via a neat hack I found. The hack doesn’t always work so don’t shoot the messenger if you luck out!! Alternatively, read this from PC World.