Roughly a month ago, Google unveiled its new answer to Social networking, Google+.
Google+ is the company's latest attempt at cracking the social networking world, after failing to gain any significant ground with Google Buzz and Google Wave.
After reading about it online and soaking up some of the hype, I thought I'd dive straight in and get a feel for the place! Luckily, I had received an invite from an old friend and didn't have to wait in the queue as Google+ is currently an 'invite only' service, until all the kinks are ironed out.
Once you have signed up, and forced yourself through filling in some of your profile information, you are presented with a home screen, similar to that of Facebook, but with Google's trademark minimalist style.
Google+ brings some new features to the social networking table, the most significant of these in my opinion is the 'Circles' feature – which allows you to categorise your contacts into relevant groups. This feature finally gets us over that difficult decision we all faced on other social networking sites, as to whether you can accept that friend request from your boss/work colleagues/respected associates/parents and let them read posts from your friends, possibly embarrassing photos etc.
With the 'Circles' feature put to use, you can target your updates and content at single or multiple circles, which introduces a natural level of privacy at user level, that as yet hasn't been fully possible in other social networking web sites.
The 'wall' feature seen previously in Myspace and more prominently Facebook, doesn't exist in Google+ and is replaced with a similar looking feed function called 'Stream'. This feeds status and content updates from your contacts to the main content area, and can be filtered by 'Circles' which can be selected on the left.
Google+ introduces 'Sparks' which allows you to specify areas of interest, and have appropriate content fed into your stream area. I can imagine this being fairly useful in the future, but I haven't had much use for this functionality yet. Same with 'Hang Outs' – a feature that enables face to face social conferencing using web cams – a clear rival to Skype's video chat, which restricts you to one on one video chat, as conference video chat is a premium, paid for service on Skype.
I think Google may have hit the nail on the head with Google+. It has a great feature set, feels clean and streamlined, answers many of the privacy worries encountered at rival social networking sites and combines your social experience with gmail, chat, google search engine etc.
Whether it will truly take off in the same way Facebook did is anyone's guess, although I have some friends who have already migrated over completely.
With regard to Real Life Design, we're currently waiting on development tools and a Google+ API in order to implement different Google+ features into our clients' Drupal based web sites. Some early Drupal modules exist which help to integrate basic functions such as the '+1' like feature, but they're limited in functionality until Google are ready to launch Google+ to the wider public, and in turn, release their development tools for us!
If any of you would like an invite to Google+ to try it for yourself, leave us a comment with your email on here and we'll get back to you.