Google+ is an interesting – if quiet – place. It’s not used by very many people, which is a shame, as the interface is rather nice and it features some really cool bits of technology.
Hangouts, for instance, are fantastic – on demand video conferencing which integrates neatly with Google’s other services likes Docs and so on.
However, because so few people are active there, it does feel a bit empty at times. When asked if organisations should use it as a space for engagement, I tend to say no – as time would be better spent working with the much larger existing communities on Twitter and Facebook.
Perhaps though Google+ is just a different space for doing different things. I wonder if it’s a better vehicle for collaboration than communication.
Take the new communities – basically the G+ version of Facebook Groups. You create your community, invite people in and then share updates, links, videos and so on just as you do in other similar spaces.
I’ve set up a ‘digital innovation’ community to test it out – do join in!
Here’s a video to explain more:
Communities are nicely integrated into other Google services – for example you can share links into your communities directly from Google Reader; and with a bit of fiddling can make a Google Doc editable by all members of a community. Of course, this being G+, you also have the ability to video conference via Hangouts whenever you want.
I have reservations about how useful G+ communities will be for public engagement activities. However, as I mentioned above, they are particularly suited I think to project working.
Indeed, the suite of tools that Google has made for collaboration, including Communities, the email based Groups, Docs, Hangouts, the wiki-like Sites – is fantastic and mostly free.
If you are a small organisation or team, and don’t have too many hangups about information security and so on, Google does pretty much everything you need to work smarter out of the box. Well worth having a play.
Additional Commentary from GIGAOM
I know, I know. Google+ announced a shiny new feature called Communities Thursday, and all I am doing is open up old wounds. But I kind of have to, so here we go:
Remember that whole ghost town talk? Of course you do. The notion that Google+ isn’t really being used by anyone by Google employees has subsided a little bit ever since Google started to release some more meaningful numbers around the social network, with the latest being Thursday’s announcement that more than 500 million Google users have opted into Google+, and 135 million are actually engaging with posts in their stream.
But still, to this day, Google+ feels empty. That is the result of a key design decision. Google+ was meant to facilitate private sharing, which by the very nature of it happens under the surface. Go to my profile, for example, and you won’t find all that many public posts. But I’m actually using the service a lot to share photos and videos with friends and family. Unfortunately, not all of them are using the site yet – in large part because it feels empty to them.
Private sharing had become a double-edged sword for Google. It was a great feature to set the service apart from Facebook – but it also made the service look incredibly boring when compared to Facebook. That’s why both active Google+ users as well as some of Google’s own employees have been trying to switch the conversation in recent months. Suddenly, Google+ wasn’t primarily about sharing with the people you know very well anymore, but about finding people you didn’t know, yet have a lot in common with.
And in select communities, that has been working very well. Photographers — in particular — have been embracing Google+ wholeheartedly, sharing their works, organizing hangouts to talk about the tools of the trade and embarking on photo walks all around the world. Google’s Ingress Alternate Reality Game has helped to build another strong and very passionate community on Google+.
But these communities have also been hampered by the design of the network. Google+ is based on asynchronous sharing: I can aggregate all my photography friends in one circle and post all my photo-related posts to that circle – but the posts still show up in everyone’s home stream, unless they put in me in the very same circle. And there’s a good chance some folks in my photo circle won’t just talk about photography, which then leads to people I follow for their photo expertise sharing restaurant reviews from a town I don’t live in with me.
Communities can solve all of that. They can help to foster communication between folks with a shared interest, but they won’t pollute your home stream. They can help to pull people in, which can then discover some of the other features of the service. In other words: They can help to turn some of Google+’s weaknesses into strengths – and in turn make it feel less like a ghost town.
Google+ is a nice service. Twitter and Facebook looked empty their first year as well, so why compare a relatively new service to something that’s been around for a few years. It provides a unique audience that continues to grow so I encourage its use and we have at least 23 public entities in Utah that have taken us up on it so far. Communities should just add to the already quite useful toolbox.