While other social networks sprang up from nothing and exist purely as social networks, Google has been around for a while. Google is jumping into the social network game with an entire online ecosystem of services available, and weaving the Google+ social network into those other entities presents some unique opportunities for Google+.
When I visit other social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, those sites are more or less islands unto themselves. I can use the social network for social networking, but then I have to leave Facebook or Twitter to engage in other activities on my computer.
But, Google is more a culture than a specific tool or service. When I am logged in to Google+ I am really logged in to the larger Google network, and the various Google services are all available to me at the top of the screen.
At the top of the Google+ screen is a black bar with links to my Google+ profile, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Photos (Picasa), Google Reader, Google Web (which is the link to the default Google search engine), and a drop-down list titled "more" which lets me connect to other Google entities like YouTube and Google Groups.
Links with access to other Google tools are helpful, but it's really not that difficult for me to open Outlook, or Microsoft Word, or whatever when I am in Facebook either. I can also have my own bar of shortcuts across the top of my browser. Google may save me a click or two, but linking to other Google sites is not exactly revolutionary.
The integration of the Google+ social network with the larger Google ecosystem is more evident when I start using the other services. For example, when I am in Gmail that same bar is still present at the top giving me easy access back to Google+, and at the upper right it has a notifications badge that lets me know if there is any activity on my social network that I should be aware of.
I found out that when I created my Google Profile using my primary email email@example.com--Google actually created a Gmail alias for the address as well. I thought that I would receive email notifications when someone adds me to a Circle, or when I am mentioned in a Google+ post, but my firstname.lastname@example.org Inbox has no such messages.
It turns out that I am also the owner of a new Gmail email@example.com. That is where all of my Google+ updates and notifications are going. That also explains why I never see them. I actually deleted a Gmail account and started over using my primary email address for my Google Profile specifically so I would get these emails sent to an email address I actually use.
It's not the end of the world. I can go set the Gmail account to automatically forward them along. It just seems silly to set up a separate Gmail account I have no intention of using, and forcing me to then set a rule to automatically forward the emails to the email address I provided in the first place.
I pointed out on Day 19 that Google has tightly integrated Google+ with Google Photos (Picasa Web Albums). Photos I take from an Android phone are automatically uploaded to Google Photos, and photos that I share on Google+ are automatically added to Google Photos albums as well.
I noted on Day 21 that Google has expanded the functionality of the +1 button so that I can add comments and choose which Circles to share with to instantly post to Google+ from anywhere on the Web with a +1 button.
On Day 18, I illustrated how YouTube is tied in with the Google+ Hangouts so a group of people can watch a video clip together--virtually together that is. That integration also exists from the YouTube side. If I am watching a video in YouTube, there is text beneath it that says "Watch with your friends" and a link to "Start a Google+ Hangout".
Google is still just getting started with weaving it all together. Over time, I expect we'll see much tighter and more seamless integration such that you won't really be using Google+, or Gmail, or Google Docs, etc.--you will just be using Google, and the various tools and functions will act as parts of an integral whole.
For those who rely on Google tools and operate from a Google-centric perspective, the future I am describing may sound awesome. Those who prefer that the social network just be a social network, and not your entire online existence, the Google ecosystem may seem a bit creepy.