I was lucky enough to score a beta invite to Google’s new +1 (plus one) aka Google+. [1]Thanks to several blog buddies who sent me invites I’ve been using it several days now and already I like it way better than Facebook. First and foremost, if and when you ever decided to leave Google+, you can take all your data with you. I’d love to see you try that w/FB. Mind you, some of the features are very similar just with different names. Friend groups are called Circles for example.

Visually, the layout is very user-friendly and easy on the eyes. I found it very simplistic and uncluttered. One might say too uncluttered. Of course, being in beta that is understandable. Anyway, if you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ll find some familiarity to it. Overall, it’s a much nicer interface. Navigation is super easy as well. While everything isn’t 100% integrated, its very easy to bounce around to your gmail, calendar, contacts, youtube, buzz, etc via the ever present in-page toolbar that is common to most Google sites. Your news feed aka Stream is pretty straight-forward and easy to navigate as well.

My personal opinion is that integration is going to be key for Google+.  Right off the bat, you get the option to merge your existing picasa account when you sign up. The two services worked seamlessly together. Changes/additions/deletions in picasa showed up immediately in +1. You still have to do most of your editing/organizing thru the picasa site directly. I expect that will change over time. Google has focused on tying a lot of their services together and +1 is obviously going to become the hub of that integration. Not to mention, you have easy access to your main Google dashboard right from the site via the afore mentioned toolbar.

The chat function is called “hangout”. You can chat with up to 10 people at once, with or without video. I encountered one bug while using it but I think it had more to do with my cheesy laptop cam. Otherwise, it worked as expected.

Privacy is much easier to use. For some this will be a big bonus. Beyond the option to take your data with you if you leave, every section can be customized to your liking. It’s a simple right click on the section to customize settings. Some are auto-shared, others are not. I found it very intuitive. You can immediately make changes. It also respects your settings from picasa as well i.e. public vs private albums.

A huge bonus for me was the mobile app. Its currently only available for Android devices but I read an iOS version is coming as well as a mobile website. The mobile app is equally simple and easy to use. It had one feature which I fell in love with immediately. You can set you Android device to automatically upload your pictures and/or videos from your phone directly to the site. You can upload all your existing media as well as auto-upload any new media you acquire. Even better, the upload directly is automatically marked private. This is obvious for so many reasons but I appreciate the fact that they realize every pic I take with my phone isn’t always fit for “public” consumption. heehee  Sharing is expected and made easy but it isn’t forced on you like Facebook does.

There is a new feature which I’m still getting used to called Sparks. Its basically like their tag service which lets you set a saved search option that constantly updates. In other words, if you like all things Android, you can set a Spark that updates constantly from across the web with any references to Android. You can set it to be as detailed or vague as you want. Basically, you save a key word or phrase and it will update for you continuously. I currently consume most of my news via my phone’s RSS app but this might be a nifty feature for those who don’t utilize their phone for reading.

People are already incorrectly referring to it as a “Facebook killer.” Hardly. Facebook is firmly entrenched into our way of life. And I don’t think Google is under any illusion it will kill Facebook. That said, this won’t be a failed venture like their Wave Project. Google’s only failure here would be to let the service languish as it has for a variety of other beta projects in the past. Its obvious Google has big plans for this new service and if I’m right in my thinking, it will quickly become a portal for all things Google and social networking. Even in beta, its off to a huge start. Done properly, it will become the competitor that the doomed mySpace used to be. Competition would encourage FB to actually respond to more user feedback/complaints. A good thing in my book. Both FB and Google have huge user bases, of which often overlap, so I can’t either killing off the other.

Of course, being in beta there are a few cons. I think many of these will change over time. The biggest being you can only auto-add friends via your current list of Google users. You can manually add/invite others but that is very time consuming. There is currently no option to add friends directly from your twitter or Facebook accounts. You can search your hotmail or yahoo email, but I don’t use either of those so that didn’t help me at all. There is very little integration outside of other Google services. You also can’t import or export to/from twitter. You can pull an RSS feed of your stream but that’s sort of a workaround.

As mentioned, the service is off to a roaring demand. In fact so much in demand, inviting others has been turned off a couple times already. If you’d like an invite, make sure your email address (preferably a gmail one) is included with any comments below.

PS. I’m sure you noticed, I added the +1 icon to my blog posts as well. click, click, click!


1 Thanks to several blog buddies who sent me invites