I'll admit it, I had written off Google's latest effort to be social. I have a tidy little theory that their focus on metrics leads them to local maximums but prevents them leaping across gaps to islands of fun. I expected Google Plus to be a flash in the pan as people signed up, poked around and never returned. That left me surprised to hear a continuing murmur of interest from people I trust like Marshall Kirkpatrick. I almost hate to publicize his secret, but he has managed to notch up a series of great stories by using the service for research.
On Thursday night I'd just finished off a links post and wanted to do my normal tweet about it, but Twitter was down. When it was still unavailable after an hour, I decided this was a sign I should check out Google Plus myself. I went to the site and put together a short post with an explanation I was experimenting with the service.
My first impression was of how fast the interface was. It didn't have that lag that I thought was inevitable with web applications. It was so quick I was convinced they must have pre-populated the page with hidden content so it was instantly available. When I looked at the network activity it turns out I was wrong, most of their content is dynamically loaded by Ajax calls. What makes the difference is how fast their response times are, often under 100ms for me. I'm definitely a snob about this sort of thing after my time at Apple, but the snappiness and some thoughtful work on the interaction model made a profound difference to my experience. The fit and finish make me want to spend time exploring the service, in contrast to Twitter's web interface which just feels a lot klunkier and messier.
Being able to write at a natural length was a surprising relief. I still stayed fairly short, within the same three-sentence rule that I try to use for emails, but I was over 140 characters. I don't think the service would work unless we'd already been taught brevity by Twitter, but being able to expand beyond those limits when I need to feels very liberating.
There were a surprising number of responses to my initial post. One of them was from DeWitt Clinton, in what I wrongly suspected was an auto-generated welcome message. I knew him through the Buzz and WebFinger developer mailing lists, so I thought he might be the Tom Anderson of Google Plus, the first friend for every new user. He convinced me he was human, so either the employees are very engaged with the service, or Google's code can now pass the Turing Test. It seems like there's quite a few regular people watching the streams too, which is confidence-inspiring this long after the launch.
Conversations about cheese
The comment thread grew into a couple of conversations, giving me a chance to reconnect with several friends. In particular Audrey Watters, Edd Dumbill and I started waxing nostalgic about British food, and the struggle to find decent cheese. Edd was inspired to create a short public post, and the whole experience convinced me that the service makes some great conversations possible. It left me wanting to return regularly, which gives me hope the service is sustainable.
I'm happy that I was proven wrong about Google Plus. I won't be abandoning Twitter, but I will be spending more time on Google's service because it offers a different experience, one that I was surprised to find myself enjoying. If you're curious, join me there too.