Google+ has only been active for a month, and tech enthusiasts can’t seem to get enough of it. There are a few concrete reasons why: A handful of new features that Google just does better than other social networks.
While Google is still trying to figure out exactly how to approach social media, the network has built enough buzz to attract a reported 20 million visitors. While this doesn’t compare to Facebook’s staggering 750 million users or Twitter’s sizable 200 million users, those networks have been around much longer.
Several of us on the VentureBeat staff have immersed ourselves into the Google+ ecosystem to see what it has to offer. Thus far we’ve come to enjoy the service and noticed a few strengths it has over Facebook and Twitter, especially in the realms of privacy and video chat.
Here are five features we’ve seen that we like in Google+ more than Facebook and Twitter:
One of the most talked-about Google+ features (and for good reason) is Circles, the tool that allows you manage the people you follow and want to share updates with. With Circles, you can send status updates to select groups, rather than blasting it out to everyone. For example, I created a Circle just for friends of mine who love music, so I could share music videos that I have created or really enjoyed.
Facebook and Twitter do offer ways to share updates selectively but they’re not as fine-tuned. I can block updates from certain groups on Facebook but to actually configure that takes time. For Twitter, it’s all or nothing with your updates, as you can make your profile private or public, but nothing more fine-grained than that.
Another often-cited feature for Google+ is Hangouts, which let you video chat with up to 10 people at the same time for free. Every person you’re chatting with appears in a small box and whoever is speaking is in a large window on top.
While Facebook recently partnered with Skype to bring video chat to Facebook users, it only supports one-on-one video chat. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted that more features were coming down the pipeline, but right now Google+ is the champion of video chat. Twitter, unfortunately, does not have a video chat option.
3. Mobile capabilities
Google+ so far has released apps for Android and iOS, and both offer much to users on the go. Outside of the basic functionality like reading updates and watching videos, there’s also a mobile group chat feature called Huddles. Unlike apps from Facebook and Twitter, this allows you to chat with many friends at once to make plans or waste time.
While I think Twitter’s mobile presence is generally excellent, the limitations of the network’s core features hinder what can be done on mobile devices, and it doesn’t offer a comparable real-time group chat. Facebook’s mobile applications are fine for reading updates and sending messages, but it could use an overhaul to keep up with Google+.
4. Data downloading
Google+ is the first prominent network to offer the ability to download your personal data and updates easily. Google’s new Google Takeout service lets you download your saved data from Google’s servers. If you wanted to leave Google+ tomorrow, for example, you could easily download your status updates before checking out.
At this time, Facebook and Twitter offer no service as comprehensive and as easy. Facebook does offer a way to download your data but the tool to do so is basically hidden. The option to “Download Your Information” used to be prominently displayed in Account Settings but now there is a barely noticeable link for the same option.
Sparks might be one of the most underutilized features in Google+. The feature lets you find content like articles and videos related to any topic you can think of. At the bottom of each peice of content is a Share button that makes it easy to show it to those in your circles.
It’s easy to miss the small “Sparks” link on the left side your Google+ stream and at first click, it seems like the feature is narrow. It highlights interests like Cycling, Fashion, Recipes, Sports cars, Android, and Robotics. But above the highlights is a search bar that pulls up anything you might want. I searched for “Harry Potter” and found entertaining blog posts published today and YouTube videos uploaded this week.
Both Facebook and Twitter don’t make it this easy to find and share content. Both competing networks make you stumble across content from someone else’s steam or look outside the network for new things to share.
While Google+ still has much to do if it wants to catch up to the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, it’s made many steps in the right direction. The above features already show how Google is making some smart decisions.
It’s not all good, of course. Google has also already made missteps like booting users off for “fake name” or “community standards” violations. Facebook and Twitter are surely watching closely and will make their own feature additions to keep up.
Are there any other things you think Google+ does better than the rest? What things do you wish Google+ did better?
Be sure to check out the rest of our series covering Google+, its features, and how it fits into the social ecosystem.