Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you likely heard something about Google’s latest and greatest stab at social networking, Google . I’ve been using the service for a few days now, and thought I’d share some of my early impressions.

1. The interface is stunning, but baffling at times

The site looks like what you’d want Facebook to look like. The two sidebars are utilitarian and sparse, the top consists of only a searchbar and four small buttons, and the main feed looks like the lovechild of Facebook and Tumblr, with its emphasis on showcasing large photos. You’ll also notice a black bar spanning across the top of every Google property that alerts you to new notifications, and even grants you the ability to create a status update on the fly. Adding friends to circles is a pleasurable experience, and the smooth animations feel like you’re using a desktop application, rather than a website. The only thing that really stands out as a flaw is the confusing comment sytem below posts. Rather than uniformly showing the first few comments, or the most recent few, Google will often present you with a handful of comments from the middle of a long thread, with options to see the comments that came before it on top, and an option to see more recent comments at the bottom. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the algorithm here, and I hope they get it cleaned up.  

2. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be yet

Facebook encourages you to connect with your friends. Twitter pushes you towards celebrities and industry experts that interest you. Google is trying to keep a foot in both camps, but it hasn’t really worked out how yet. Rather than a simple chronological list like Twitter or Facebook’s live feed, or an interest-based algorithm like Facebook’s EdgeRank, Google places the update with the most recent interaction on top. While it sounds like a good idea in practice, it tends to keep celebrities and internet-famous people pinned to the top of the page, while pushing your real life friends to the bottom. For several days I kept seeing the same Gina Trapani and Adam Pash updates resurfacing at the top of my feed because somebody new hit the 1 button or commented on them. You can use filters on the sidebar to weed out the people you “follow,” and focus on your friends, acquaintances, and family, but this is an imperfect solution.

3. Hangout could bring group chatting to the mainstream, but I’m not talking about video

Hangout is a video and IM group chat feature deeply integrated into Google , and it’s unique in that it allows people to jump in and out at will. For example, I start a new Hangout room, limit its visibility to people in my friends circle, and they all see it pop up in their newsfeed. Once the conversation gets going, up to ten participants can chat simultaneously over video or IM, and even share YouTube videos via a built-in utility. Now honestly, I’m a big seller on video chat ever taking off in a meaningful way; too many people are self-conscious, or would simply rather type; but the group messaging is a nice touch. There’s nothing revolutionary about group chat per se, but it’s a feature that Facebook has still failed to implement in an intuitive way (UPDATE: They just did. Glad I could point them in the right direction). Once more people start signing up for Google , this could prove to be a killer feature.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to explore here, these are just a few things that jumped out to me in my time on the site. It’s absolutely Google’s most intriguing product launch in a few years, and it’s built to be in the game for a long time. The big question which I don’t think anyone has the answer to is whether there’s room in the market for three major social networks. At the time of this writing I believe the site is open to the public, but the invitation system has been such a shitshow that your experience may vary day to day. In any event, if you need someone to fill out your first circles, feel free to add me. Have fun!