Google+ has its minuses

Google+ circles

Got an hour to organize hundreds of contacts? We don’t.

Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Google is now swinging open the gates to Google+, its invite-only social network, in the hopes that the company’s considerable worldwide clout will help it unseat Facebook. The fledgling social network is doing much right, like hosting interactive videoconferencing “hangouts,” considering privacy measures (even if belatedly), and offering the ability to edit posts. However, some decisions and omissions leave us a little cold.

To be fair, Google+ is only weeks old and is still generating its user base from among the hundreds of millions of Google account holders. While we don’t expect absolute perfection in a first-generation Google product any more than we would from other software vendors, a variety of us CNET editors using Google+ have pinpointed some flaws and missing links over the last few weeks; we’ve aggregated our strongest complaints here.

Circles setup
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Parsing contacts into circles is more labor-intensive the more contacts you have, and the setup interface feels clunky. Like you, we have hundreds of contacts apiece, but in the circle interface, only 29 are visible at a time by default. You can drag the selection area down to reveal additional rows of potential contacts, which helps, though the proceeding still amounts to what is essentially a one-by-one drag-and-drop operation. It’s the same tedium when it comes to sorting an influx of contacts into circles.

In addition to the default contact view (pictured above), Google could consider a text-only list for assigning buddies by the batch. We had also hoped Google+ would be smarter about flagging and consolidating contacts with multiple e-mail addresses and entries.

Management options in general are a little sparse. For example, it’d be nice to reorder your circles in the Stream menu according to which ones you deem the most important.

In addition to choosing which circles of people you’d like to message, we’d also like to choose circles to exclude from a post, even if you choose the Public option. The post would still be visible to everyone who looked for it, but the broadcast itself wouldn’t surface in the stream for every one of your groups.

Public circles
An additional approach to Google+ circles could help alleviate the sticky issue we CNET folk have with spamming people in our lives who don’t follow our tech stories while we’re trying to reach the people who do. Google+ could let people subscribe to a circle that the owner wishes to make public–for instance, a special-interest circle like tech, photography, motorcycles, music, or cooking. Not only would you reach your chosen circles, you’d also be able to reach total strangers who join the group of their own volition. Again, if you took that post public instead, your uninterested followers and friends would have to ignore or “mute” those conversation threads. Twitter has a similar ability to create and curate lists. Admittedly, some privacy implications could present hurdles.

Google+ notifications

Alerts can get noisy, fast.

Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Google+ uses Gmail for person-to-person messaging, rather than a one-on-one chat. However, Gmail’s Google+ integration is poor–you can send but not receive e-mails from the site. If you don’t have a contact in your address book, you can’t privately message that contact at all. Creating ever more specific circles to carry on a more limited conversation among a subset of a larger group (say, Family, for instance) is a futzy workaround. Chat would be an easy fix; creating a temporary circle for one-time posting threads or Huddles could be another.

While we’re on the topic, Google seemed so eager to flex some video chat muscle with Hangout, it skipped the less intimidating, more welcoming, and likely more generally applicable group chat for its Web interface. Huddle is currently only available through the mobile app.

Posts are organized by activity, not by chronological order, making it difficult to keep up with recent posts. An option to organize streams as a timeline, as you can in Facebook, would be handy.

Public search
While some of us find Google’s indexing of public posts too public, there’s also the belief that the search giant could and should do more to surface its users’ musings. The only way we found to search public posts is to leave Google+ in favor of Google and search for “ *”. Google+, being a relatively open platform–and also the brainchild of a company that made its name revolutionizing search–needs to have content search built in.

Vanity URL
Google had the opportunity to learn from Facebook’s latency when it comes to customized URLs for your personal page. It should have peddled the ability to create these vanity URLs immediately at launch, instead of opting for services like to supply that functionality. Perhaps the Goog is holding back until it can offer a fuller branding experience to corporate partners?

If you leave the defaults be, notifications in Google+ can quickly overwhelm. Even if you do disable some alerts, Google should let you further refine preferences so you receive notifications only from people already associated with your circles.

‘+1’ Web button
When Google+ launched, the potential of Google’s “+1” Web button, previously an isolated experiment with no real social follow-through, clicked into place. Suddenly your +1 endorsement has a home, and vice versa. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t yet closed the loop. Google should update the button to integrate with Google+, so that the next time you click +1 anywhere on the Web, you also get the opportunity to add a comment directly to your Google+ profile.

Android app
In order to compose a new message, you have to first tap into the stream. A “compose” button on the program’s start screen would save a couple of steps.

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