Google+ is yet another foray into the social media market for Google. Although there were previous communities (mainly what Google had bought up), its first attempt was with Google Wave. When Wave first appeared on the scene it gained a lot of people quite quickly but was hampered by performance as conversations got larger and more people joined. Eventually its popularity waned, and what was a unique and interesting concept for social interaction on the web started to die out.
Google Buzz was another attempt; one that is still around today and is integrated with Google Mail (and now Google+) was a way of bringing a minimal degree of sharing between contacts. With Buzz you had the option of posting to it with links and/or photos and could even connect other sites to it so any updates from you elsewhere on the web would also get posted to Buzz.
Now, with Google+ they're setting themselves up as a direct competitor to Facebook. This is a comparison that is unavoidable, ever since Facebook became the most well known social media site any that have launched since no matter what their intentions, they have been compared to it. Whist there are a number of similarities between Google+ and Facebook there are also a number of differences (which I'll come back to shortly).
This being a Google project it is fairly obvious the focus will be on information. Once you're signed up to use Google+ the "Google bar" (I don't know it's official name) changes to include extra options to show the number of notifications you have on Google+ and a link to quickly share "stuff" with people on Google+.
When you share something you can type a message and then, like Buzz, you can attach a link or photo too it, though in this case you can also attach video or your current geo-location. Once shared this then appears in your stream and will be visible to those "circles" that you've chosen to allow the post to be seen by.
A circle, in Google+ terms, is a collection of people that have been grouped for easy categorization for when you want to communicate with multiple people. By default you have circles for Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following; but you can also add your own. To add people to a circle they have quite a nice interface where you visually see circles and thumbnails of people that are available to add/invite to join a circle. When you hover over the circle it expands out show who is in the circle and includes a nicely styled tooltip explaining the circle. To add people to a circle you can either drag and drop them in, or click on a circle and add them by searching for a name or email address.
The next new concept for Google+ is a "Spark" - this is a way of displaying news from popular sites based upon your interests. Each spark you add can then be viewed individually from the left-hand navigation and can be used to share posts with your circles.
Finally, there are hangouts. A hangout is where multiple people can have video chats using Google Talk - this does however require a plugin to first be installed to allow the use of your webcam and microphone. This currently supports up to 10 people in a single conversation.
Overall the design of the interface is nice and is a huge improvement over what Google Wave was. It's also similar in layout to Facebook which means anyone who has already used Facebook should find using Google+ to be a fairly familiar experience. The user experience when using the mobile application is actually even better though - it takes the familiar elements of Google's other mobile applications and builds upon them making the interaction feel smoother and easier.
When registering it will ask you to join your account with a Picasa account - this is what it will use for sharing your posted images with others. Hopefully there will also be a way of using Flickr, or at least automatically streaming from Flickr in the future.
From the point of view of a developer there are several key areas where you could potentially have API access for, and hopefully it won't be long before Google release an API for it. To some degree it is already possible to post to it due to the use of the Google +1 button but this is only for sending links to posts on other sites.
Over the coming few weeks as the site grows and evolves I'll carry on using this new site to see how it compares and to better determine what advantages and disadvantages it has.