It's been almost a month since Google Plus debuted. The web giant's most ambitious venture yet into social networking has now drawn some 20 million users – including a smattering of celebrities – while discussions about its prospects have sucked up a remarkable amount of bandwidth on such competing social hubs as Facebook and Twitter.
My own use fits that pattern. I still turn to Twitter for work-related updates and Facebook for personal chit-chat, saving Google Plus for occasions when the big two somehow don't fit.
One such case is photo sharing. Between Google Plus's drag-and-drop web upload from your desktop and its automatic uploading from its Android app (its iPhone app lacks that feature, and both leave it up to you to choose who, if anybody, can see shots saved online), Google has crafted one of the easiest ways to post pictures.
Another is lengthy debates. Twitter's endlessly flowing, stream-of-news design thwarts following an exchange for longer than a couple of posts, while Facebook's clumsy friends-list interface makes it difficult to bring specific groups of people into a conversation.
Plus's greatest achievement may be showing the world — but Facebook in particular — how to give users a clear but meaningful choice of privacy options. It's faster and more obvious to make an update visible to a subset of your pals on Plus than on Facebook (though I'd like to see Plus display how many people will see each update), and the Plus mobile app offers the thoughtful option of broadcasting your location down to the address or only showing what city you're in.
And by departing from Facebook's requirement of two-way relationships–on Plus, strangers can follow you to see your public posts without placing any comparable obligation on you, just like on Twitter–Google eliminates some of the maintenance Facebook requires.
(Disclosures: I use Facebook and now Google Plus to market my work, and I've spoken at a couple of Google events.)
But in other ways, Google may be setting itself up for future problems. Its Circles friend-sorting interface is a joy at first, but it may be too precise for reality. Social life is often less circles than clouds of probability, and staying on top of who belongs in each circle looks like it will grow tedious.
Plus's conversation-friendliness can also break down if you follow especially popular individuals; the chats they kick off can crowd out everybody else in your default feed.
Some of Google's most active users find themselves shut out of Plus: If you, like me, have a Google Apps account to do business under your own domain name, you can't log into Plus unless you log out of your Apps account first.
Other, less enthusiastic converts to social networking may not appreciate the requirement imposed by Plus, but not other Google services, that you use your real name.
Set aside for now what Facebook and Twitter might be able to do to catch up to Plus's insightful interface; instead, consider the obstacles you'd face moving your online presence to Plus.
Bringing over such Facebook data as contacts, photos and videos looks to be a minor ordeal and getting your friends to join you on Plus would be exponentially more difficult.
Given that Plus in general lacks the overwhelming competitive advantage on display in Gmail and Google Maps, it doesn't look ready to own this market. Instead, it will need to foster conversations that haven't been taking place elsewhere — for those of us with time for yet another social-media outlet.