Users of Facebook this week will have noticed some major changes to its interface, not without murmurs of annoyance (me included). As a knee-jerk reaction I decided to look into Google Plus (Google+ or G+), which is the fast-growing alternative to our fave social media website. The changes at Facebook, however, make a lot of sense, and having seen Google+ in action it is no wonder Facebook pulled its socks up and sorted itself out. The result? A more streamlined interface that allows better control over what we read and who we interact with. But which is the best? And should you switch?
The newsfeed in the top-right of the screen is a constantly changing update of your contacts’ status changes. It’s a useful way of seeing, at a glance, what your contacts are up to without having to view their profile page. If it looks interesting a quick scroll of the mouse over the item opens an interactive window.
The other major change is the control over ‘Lists’, which are essentially groups of people you create. You control who are in these groups and filter your own main news feed whether to display status updates of these groups.
Another touch I like is being able to add close friends to your Notifications, the globe in the top-left that lights up red when something relevant to you is happening.
These may appear to be new ways of interacting with your contacts… until you check out Google+.
If you have a Gmail account you’re already half way to creating a Google+ account. At first glance the controls in G+ appear daunting and a trifle confusing, but that’s simply because you’re used to the way Facebook works. Get your head around the concept of ‘Circles’, which is the Google equivalent of Facebook’s ‘Lists’, and you’re on your way to filtering groups of contacts.
Creating Circles of friends and contacts is pretty straightforward, but it’s the additional ability to publish your posts to the public that make it a strong contender. As a simple example, I’ve created a group of Photographers and can add, at will, any user of G+, or just a Gmail user, to my Photography circle. This allows me to publish photographs to the public, to my circle of Photographers and to any other circle I’ve created. See GooglePlusDirectory to search for people.
What really makes G+ so useful, however, is its integration with its sister products like Picasa. Interaction with albums created by my friends and other contacts is slicker than Facebook’s; Google Chat is obviously part of the set-up, allowing me to interact with Gmail users who don’t have a G+ account; and then consider how many other products Google owns that you already use. They all have a place in Google Plus.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of comparisons between the two applications, they’re just my observations after playing with G+ for 24 hours.
Facebook has been a boon to people like us who live abroad and can’t always hook up with friends. The majority of my contacts on FB are transient sailors who lead similar lives to us, and I can’t see myself closing my Facebook account just yet as I doubt they’ll want, or indeed have the time, to learn something new. However I like the feel of Google+ and can see it having greater use amongst my ‘professional’ contacts and other people with whom I share interests.
As a fan of FOSS (free and open-source) I tend to favour anything that is not controlled by a big, closed-door corporation and I’ve always been a fan of Google (many of you will be using Google’s operating system, Android, on your smart phone already). For me I see it as a new avenue of communication and a refreshing change to Facebook, but ultimately the two giants are offering the same service.
I guess which one you use will come down to your willingness to try something new… and whether you’re fed up with Facebook.
Check out our Google Plus profiles in the sidebar on followtheboat and add us to your circle, and don’t forget to click the +1 button at the end of this post.