Google+

As some of you may know Google's been on a rampage lately. At the minimum you should be seeing a different layout in the search results pages, and if you use any of it's services you'll be seeing other changes. Right now you can see changes in Google Calendar, and if you want you can check out the new GMail theme, just go into Themes and select the one of the two previews available. That's just at the basic level. Coinciding with these changes Google has unwrapped it's biggest push into the social networking arena yet, Google+. It's not yet open to everyone, it's not perfect, and it is a beta, but it's already got me hooked.

So what does Google+ (G+) have to offer that Facebook or Twitter doesn't? Well what I think is the differentiating feature is is Circles; the ability to group your contacts into different groups and selectively share or view things to and from those circles. But, you can do that in Facebook, you say. Yes, and I have some groups, but the way of doing things is clunky, at best. Making the groups is like looking for Facebook's privacy settings; you know they're there, but where? In G+ it's front and center with a great drag and drop system of doing things with a nice animation. Groups in Facebook was an afterthought while Circles in G+ feels like a core feature. Can Facebook mimic this? of course they can, and probably will. This feature alone has made me more active in this community than in Facebook or Twitter. I don't need to think too much about sharing and worrying if I'm boring my audience with too many photo related shares, or tech shares, as I can now make circles of people that are more inclined to be interested in those posts. See on Facebook I was more of a passive user; lurking around my friend's profiles and dropping a comment here and there but mainly just reading. In G+ I've been more active.

OK, I should probably have said this from the outset, but I've never been a big fan of Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I like how I've reconnected with old friends on it, and have been keeping up with what they've been doing, but I've never really taken to Facebook. Part of it is the perceived issues it has with privacy. I say perceived because I've not really fully read the terms of service for Facebook. I do feel that Facebook's definition of "private" and "public" and "ownership" don't really match my definition, though I will say they have come a long way since I first opened an account with them. But what it boils down to is trust. Am I willing to trust Facebook with all of my social interactions, my photos, and my information? The answer to that has been no. Am I willing to trust Google with this information? Yes, and because I trust it already with so much of my personal information I'm willing to offer up more of my social information.

But enough about trust, what other features does G+ have? The standout feature that Facebook doesn't have (at the moment anyway) is what G+ calls Hangouts. Click the Hangout button and you and 9 other people from a circle or from all your circles can hangout and chat. And by chat I mean video conference, not some chat room from back in the AOL days. The cool thing is the programming behind the scenes that puts the camera focus on the person talking, or talking loudest. It's like having an editor controlling the camera action. Why do I find this great? As a photographer I follow a lot of other photographers on Twitter and Facebook. Have you ever tried sending someone a question over Twitter or Facebook? If they're even a little famous in their own area of expertise the chances of you getting an answer are pretty slim; there's just too much noise for them to hear you. But when when you're 1 of 9 other people you get the chance to interact with them and for them to interact with you. Sure, it's great to be re-tweeted, but I prefer a little face to face time.

Case in point, I joined a Hangout with HDR extraordinaire Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs fame. I've been a fan of his for a while now, follow him on all the social avenues available, but never really connected with him. I showed him (and the other 9) one of my photos and he critiqued it; things I could have done better from positioning the shot to processing the image. You just can't get that from Facebook or Twitter. Other Hangouts I've joined have been with Smugmug CEO Don MacAskill, and Google's Vic Gundotra.

One other thing I really like about G+ is it's integration with Picasa, and it's presentation of photos. There's a bunch of talk in photography circles about this being the next Flikr or 500px. I can't vouch for that, as I hardly interact with either of those sites, but as a photographer I do enjoy setting my stream to my Photography Circle and seeing, primarily, wonderful shots and interacting with other photographers. And with a photo sharing service for mobile devices coming from Google soon, I can only expect this feature to get better.

So is Google+ perfect? Heck no, it's only been around a week or so, but it's promising. Will I be closing my accounts at Facebook and/or Twitter? Obviously no, not right away. In the long term I don't see G+ getting rid of either service completely. But, if enough of my "real life" friends make it over to G+, and use it, I could happily see myself trying to delete my account from Facebook. So how can you get in? Currently the invites are closed. If you're not already in you can ask someone who is in to try and share something with your email address. I hear this works for some, but it's not working for me, so please don't fill the comments with invite requests. Once you get on add me to your Circle!

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