Google Plus - are 'circles' better than 'streams'?

A pre-launch version of Google Plus is being tested and reviewed by a number of industry commentators. What can the rest of us look forward to?

For some time, industry commentators have referred to Google's seeming inability to 'get' social or to make in-roads into the dominance of Twitter and Facebook.  With the 'closed beta' launch of Google+ at the end of June, Google is staking a claim for a slice of the social market.  What features does Google+ offer, and what are the potential applications for information professionals?

Google 'rebranding'

As Phil Bradley points out in his recent review of Google+, there is some rebranding going on at Google. Google+ comes with a black toolbar at the top of the page that aims to bring together all of Google's tools.  (Ryan Singel, writing for Wired, thinks this toolbar is in itself a killer feature.) It seems that the Picasa and Blogger names will go - to be replaced with Google Pictures and Google Blogs. 

Key elements of Google Plus

The Google Stream feature is similar to a Twitter stream in that it enables you to post and share.  According to Chris Brogan this feature is all about 'conversation' and he notes that the most popular streams or conversations seem to stay at the top of the screen.  The feature gets a thumbs up from Phil Bradley who likes the power it gives him to target his messages.  Avi Rappoport, writing for Information Today, highlights this feature that enables you to channel streams using Circles.

Google Circles is a feature that enables you to structure your contacts into groupings.  Chris Grogan praises its simplicity and Michael Fauscette highlights the 'granular' control' it gives users in segmenting and sharing content.  Phil Bradley calls Circles 'easy and intuitive'.  Singel points out that Circles should help control 'oversharing' which happens on Facebook when users broadcast to everyone.

Google Sparks provides 'current awareness on subjects of interest'.  It is difficult to find anyone with anything postive to say about this feature, which Avi Rappoport calls 'anaemic' and which Phil Bradley criticises for its US bias.   

Google Hangouts - this video chat feature has been getting much of the recent coverage.  According to Phil Bradley, Michael Fasucette and others, it is Google Plus's killer app/feature.  Its simplicity and the ability to chat with up to ten people have been praised.

Where Google Plus needs to improve

The lack of decent search functionality in Google Plus is a problem, although Google has stated it is working on it.

Google Plus for businesses

In a YouTube video released on 6 July, Google asked users of Google Plus to refrain from creating business or brand profiles as it is working to develop and test ways to 'optimise the business experience'.  Meanwhile, commentators are busy predicting ways in which Google+ can be used by businesses and brands.  A number of the features, including Hangouts and Circles are seen as potentially valuable in supporting collaborative and mobile working.   Phil Bradley looks forward to a day when enhanced Google Hangouts will enable him to add links and and use a whiteboard so he can use it as a training tool.

Even though most of us have not been granted access to Google+ yet, you can get a good idea of its functionality and look and feel from a number of reviews.  Or you can take a tour via the official website.  Information professionals are expert at finding work-based applications for social networking tools (where they have not been blocked!).  It's time to start thinking and planning.

Image by blp_rnt via Flickr.