I got an invite, signed up, and was even able to invite other people today. My verdict? Too soon to tell.
My first impression is one of resignation, that it’s one more thing I need to log into on a daily basis to see the same stuff I’m probably already seeing on Facebook and Twitter. It feeds you information somewhat like Facebook does, by streaming a page in front of you with what other people have posted, but you can filter your feed by specific groups of people.
Speaking of seeing stuff I’ve seen already, Sparks looks like the annoying, overly-talkative, and less-intelligent cousin of Google Reader. I avoid “fanning” stuff on Facebook because I get my news about gadgets, books, and bacon elsewhere. I don’t want it in my news feed on Facebook, too. Same thing for Google+, I don’t see myself abandoning my RSS feed to have Sparks deliver me every single post from around the net that is similar to or mentions something I like. Not until I get some sort of neural implant that lets me sort through piles of crap instantly.
The Hangout looks like a great place to waste time, but I don’t know anybody who’s been craving for a return to IRC so I’m not sure the feature what will make this feature take off. Time will tell. It may end up like Chatroulette with clothes on. Though they do talk about on-the-fly translation, that’s impressive if they can pull it off.
One of the things it doesn’t do, or do well yet, is messaging. Facebook is lots of things rolled into one for me (as opposed to SMS, email, IM, etc.) It’s how I communicate with people because I know everyone has it and I know everyone checks it on a mostly-regular basis. Until Plus can do the same, I’m stuck using multiple platforms. We’ll see how Huddle works out but it’s more immediate than the Facebook message system, which may take away some of the value. It looks like you can share something with only one person, but I’m not sure how that shows up on the other end, I’ll have to play with it. My expectation is that the message I share will show up on their stream but they won’t get any sort of notice that I put something just for them and it could be missed. I don’t want to go back to emailing everybody, I thought we’d progressed, but it looks like using Google+ relegates you to using Gmail to message people. Meh.
Also, I can’t do much with it from my iPhone yet, which will be key to my adopting it long-term. If I can’t use it when I’m on the go, then I won’t use it. Google says it’s submitted the app to Apple, so we’ll see how that works out and what functionality, if any, might be restricted on the mobile version.
In the end, Google + is pretty so far but I don’t know if it will stick. The ideal thing to develop would be a single sign-on for the Internet. Somewhere I can log in as Me and use whatever front-end I want (Twitter, Facebook, whatever else gets invented) or ignore them as I feel. Then everyone would have the global address book available to them without the need for friending or inviting, without pestering everybody you know sign up for Facebook, and LiveJournal, and MySpace, and Google +, and Twitter, and FourSquare, and MSN Messenger, and Skype, and and and… You just sign on, choose the front end or mix of front ends you prefer and configure how you share with the world and what the world streams for you. Like back in the day when I used to run MSN Messenger, and AIM, and Yahoo IM, and ICQ. Then Trillian came along and gave me one interface for all of them, except I’d like that in reverse. People can use ICQ or MSN or whatever they want, but everyone goes to the same place to find their contacts. That would be nice to have, rather than wondering if a platform will take off because not everybody you know will migrate over to it.
Actually, I suppose what it comes down to would be like having an online cell phone number. Once you have a key piece of information (my cell number), it doesn’t matter if I’m using an iPhone and you’re using an Android, or a Blackberry, or a ten-year-old dumbphone. You can communicate with me, and other functionality gets layered over that piece of contact information – you can call me, you can text me, you can send me pictures, you can manage your contacts list however you want and assign me a special ringtone for when I call you… the key is the number and having everybody play nice with the rules of communicating from number to number. It’ll probably never happen.