Google+ , the presumptive Facebook killer, shows tremendous potential. As someone who warms up to any social network with the alacrity of a Galápagos tortoise, this, for me, is saying something.
Yes, I'm one of the lucky ones who got a pre-over-capacity invite. I've tried to share a couple, but new Google+ users are only gaining entrance at a halting pace.
The service, which initially stuck me as a blatant Facebook rip-off, actually has many of its own charms, not the least of which is the useful, somewhat addictive Circles. I know this topic divides Google+ users. Some people do not like to spend time organizing their social contacts. I'm not sure I do either, but the method that Circles employs for discovery and organization (dragging and dropping people into actual circle graphics, for instance) is addictive and easily blows away anything Facebook ever developed.
As soon as I logged in I found myself dropping contacts into the default circles of friends, family, and acquaintances. Yes, I have struggled a bit to decide who is a friend and who the lesser "acquaintance." If there is one thing social can be credited with it's stretching the boundaries of what we consider friends. Admittedly, I probably put too many people in the friends circle—I consider it a hopeful act.
Happily, I'm not stuck with a default set of Google+ Circles. I created a couple of my own and then dragged folks into those. I do hope the names for these circles remain private. I could see people using sardonic titles like "Bunch of Idiots" and then getting in trouble because people found out they were a part of one of these less-than-desirable social circles.
As with all Google social ventures, Google+ has tentacle-like reach into every part of my Google world and connections. Early on, I allowed Google+ to connect with my Hotmail account, which quickly expanded its contact reach. Plus (I have to use the word in a column about Google+), all my Google+ conversations are showing up in my Gmail account. I'm also seeing every single new Google+ connection notification in my Gmail inbox. This is a work in progress, so I'm willing to accept this annoyance, but I hope Google puts consolidating all these updates into one or two daily digests at the top of its Google+ enhancement list.
I'm seeing lots of random photos in my update stream. Some of the most interesting ones are from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who appears to be going through his Picasa archives to share the most interesting shots. People like me are commenting on them, but Brin has yet to respond.
Speaking of photos, I love to share odd and interesting shots I've taken with my phone on Twitter (that account connects to my Facebook account). On Google+ there's no obvious way to share images from my BlackBerry Torch. I assume mobile platform-specific Google+ versions will solve this, too.
One Google+ commenter noted how everyone is talking about the new service on Google+. This is to be expected. As with any shiny, new social toy, participants can't help but marvel at its polish and gleam. However, that has to change—and fast.
To be successful and potentially up-end Facebook, Google+ must be adopted by the masses; those who check in on Facebook five times a day and who carry on important, personal, and farcical conversations. Activities that Facebook members thrive on should be replicated and improved upon. Farmville had a transformative impact on Facebook's fortunes. Google+ will need a game to draw members back to the service on a daily basis; Google's hesitancy to bake search into every aspect (it is in some areas) of the service undermines Google+'s most critical advantage.
Google+'s other big advantage is video and it puts this young social network leaps and bounds ahead of others, at least in this single aspect. I tried the video Hangout and found it as brain-dead simple as it should be. It'll foster instant "face-to-face" group meetings and lots of communal YouTube video sharing. Facebook is sure to introduce some sort of Skype integration next week, but as those who use Skype already know, group video is not free.
There's a lot of heat around Google+ right now (you can thank me later, Google, for not saying "Buzz"), but it's when that heat and flurry of initial activity from first movers and early adopters fades that we'll learn if Google+ has what it takes to become the next Facebook.