I've been on Google+ for almost two weeks now, but it's just starting to get interesting. Two large influxes of new users (I suppose we should still be calling them testers, actually) over the last few days have brought many of my friends to the service. It's still a lot quieter than those other services, but it doesn't feel too soon to give a few early thoughts on Plus.
It seems to me that Google is trying to position Plus in between Facebook and Twitter, and then expand out from there. With its asymmetric relationships, Plus is more like Twitter in providing the opportunity to find interesting new people for purely online interactions. But, with circles, some of those relationships can be privileged, making it more comfortable to do the kind of oversharing common on Facebook. I think the model is meant to provide the best of both worlds, which just makes sense competitively.
Facebook is so firmly entrenched in people's real lives, which is a major challenge to a would-be competitor. Think about it: When was the last time you used a service other than Facebook to invite people to an event? So, I think the Google+ strategy includes providing Twitter-style relationships and interactions while building up the user base to the point where competition with Facebook is possible. I won't even try to predict whether it will work, but here are a few promising observations.
First, circles are cool. Some have argued that they offer little-to-nothing more than friend lists on Facebook, but I disagree. I think their presence from the start and their prominence in the sharing UI, combined with the asymmetric relationships in Plus, makes circles much more useful and powerful. Even with lists, I've never felt comfortable adding acquaintances or coworkers as Facebook friends. But I really do believe that I could use Plus as a single online home for these different types of relationships, without worrying about sharing the wrong kind of information with the wrong people.
Second, the implementation is great, and already beats Facebook in many respects. The Web UI is top-notch, and I love the integration with Picasa Web Albums (a service I haven't used in the past, but plan to now). And on mobile? From day one, Google+ for Android wipes the floor with Facebook's app. Even the mobile Web version on iPhone (the native app is apparently awaiting approval) is better than the Facebook app there.
Third, I'm hearing a lot of people expressing excitement about the opportunity to dump Facebook. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising, and it's a sentiment I definitely agree with. We hand over all kinds of personal data to this company that holds it captive and gives us reason after reason not to trust them with it. Why? Because there doesn't seem to be a viable alternative. What's interesting, though, is that I'm now hearing these anti-Facebook sentiments from people I wouldn't expect to be concerned about issues of privacy or lock-in.
A final couple of thoughts on glaring omissions from Plus. Huddles and Hangouts are interesting new features, but I really don't think they make up for what's missing. Notably, that's some facility for company/organization/brand presence (i.e. Pages on Facebook) and events. Apparently, the former is already a work in progress, but I'd argue that the latter is just as important, if not more so. As I alluded to above, I think Facebook Events connects with people's real lives more than any other feature, so it's vital for any would-be Facebook replacement. Google has the opportunity for another integration, with Google Calendar, which could be very interesting.
Even at this point, well in advance of its official launch, Google+ is an impressive offering. I'm looking forward to seeing where Google takes it next. Happy +ing!