More thoughts on the user experience in G+

Having been in G+ for a short while now, and joined in with a lot of folks on the G+ field trial, kicking the tyres and joining in on some of the various discussions about it.  I wanted to put down some more of mine own thoughts about this interesting platform.

For the uninitiated & curious this is a quick introductory video:

credits: Google

 

The obvious thing that most people notice is there space and cleanliness of the Google UX, which has sprung from this initiative of Google (Evolving the Google design and experience).  Of which I am a fan, as I mentioned in a previous blog post about G+.

Many observers have pointed out that the G+ UI is very similar in layout to Facebook, by using a central column of activity with adjacent switches and controls to help navigate the UI. I presume research on user interface design, indicates that best practise for an information flow format would be a central column feature with blank margins or edges to the browser window to draw in the eye to the core content.  Though in my mind it does leave a lot of unused space available in the browser, which could be exploited – perhaps for not for primary content but as supplementary content or additional control features.

However, in spite of this good stuff, I see the following limitations with the current (mid – July 2011) UX of G+ which inhibit my full participation in this platform.

You can only view one stream of activity at a time (a particular circle or the whole stream):

 

  • Compare that to most Twitter clients (Tweetdeck, Seesmic etc.) where there is a lot of flexibility in the number of columns on view combined with the Twitter list feature is a very powerful mechanism for tracking multiple activity streams simultaneously.
  • I am not sure the web UX of G+ will develop a multi-stream UX soon (I may be wrong).  Though I expect on the release of the API – 3rd party clients will provide this feature pretty rapidly.
  • Perhaps Google will allow users to create additional tabs|spots for favourite streams here would be a possible solution?

image

(For example, I already use the Google+Tweet integrated extension – so it can be done)

Circles are missing activity notification features:

 

image

  • Currently UI indicates the displayed stream by highlighting it in a red font.  But it provides no information about the status of activity in other circles|streams you may be interested in, therefore your decisions on where to view next are more pot-luck than driven by useful information.  This could be fixed by providing..
    • An unread count for each circle (though will that make it feel like email all over again?)
    • Give new post indicators (e.g. change of font colour of updated circles, or place updated circles at the top of circles list, blinking circle icon etc.)
    • Indication of new posts in a stream by a different background fill colour, like unread marks, but that fade on scroll or mouse hover.
  • Obviously, this is more applicable when viewing a particular circle stream, rather than your whole activity stream, but knowing what circles are active or dormant should be indicated visibly to assist your management of the G+  service.
G+ needs more than just Circles (in their current form):

 

  • Circles are great, they help out a lot.  They help channel, tailor and focus the conversation to an audience that grasps the tacit context and content around the information shared.  Also these are the early days of G+ – so we need to give Google a fair crack of the whip and respond to feedback etc.
  • However, my gripe is this. Circles provide a method to categorise or filter people and how you share with them, but not necessarily where content should be shared.  Or actually where to find that content again…
    • I can’t search for posts or comments from inside G+ (I know there’s Chrome browser search work around), but it’s not brilliant.
    • Utilisation of topic (hash) tags are missing.
    • All circles are private, there are no public equivalents.
  • I feel this leads to a random spray (scatter gun) of information and knowledge across G+ which users find hard to grasp and navigate.  Which is why I think we’re all mostly talking about G+, rather than other things. see this example
  • I’m sure Google will be working on this, but I feel there needs to be either an implementation of public circles or topic specific pages|groups.
  • Then not only does the individual user have the ability to post content in context or to the right audience, but community|shared knowledge actually has a conceptual container & residency.  Therefore if you’re interested in “X” you join the page|group about X, and as a consequence find the associated experts, latest information, debate etc. Then you can create your own related circle to be your receiving filter for that information stream.
  • To me it just seems to be something missing in G+.  Each one of us is creating our own circles of content consumers and creators, with very little reference apart from our own social graph.  Which seems fine for private or intimate level of social kinship. But at a community sharing level I think there needs to be a higher level of visibility on the nature of content shared or purpose for sharing. To build and cement connections in that community, as well to motivate, inspire and drive it forward.  Do you disagree?  Do you think G+ can seed such strong communities without that conceptual framework?

I hope Google does address some of these issues soon, as I feel a little reticent to fully engage in the platform, as at some level I’m not quite comfortable with this scatter gun approach to content sharing. I think this is partly because of the richness of the conversation factor within G+, it seems  that as a platform more deserving of quality discourse and sharing, so it feels important to do that in the place of most social value – and I can’t tell where that is in G+.

I feel it is more deserving than Twitter, because of fully developed conversation model (chronicled comments and stream),  and the removal of the character limit on the individual post or share.  And also more deserving than Facebook, because at the moment it remains free of commercial interference … whether that will continue?  That is probably unlikely as Google will need to monetise the platform at some point, and that’s bound to mean more than just Adsense links.

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