I got a prized early invite to Google+, the search giant’s highly anticipated Facebook competitor, thanks to the magic of Wired’s Steven Levy. But I could not find it anywhere.
Gmail, it turns out, decided the invite was a phishing attack and stuck it in the spam folder — where search doesn’t naturally reach — and slapped a giant red bar on the top, warning me it might not be from the sender the e-mail claimed to be from.
Gmail’s algorithm need not be so protective. Google+ turns out to be a well-designed social network, centered on the concept of Circles — the idea that relationships are more complicated than the binary friend-or-not-friend model that has served Facebook so well.
Instead of asking you to decide whether your mother, dog-walker and old summer camp pal all count as friends and sending them a request to reciprocate, Google+ has a set of circles — with some default ones like Family, Friends and Acquaintances. To start your social network, Google shows you contacts from your e-mail inbox: Gmail by default and options to import from Yahoo and Microsoft — but not, ahem from Facebook. You simply drag a person to the circle you want to put them in. You can put them in as many circles as you like, and it has a nifty — and visually very Apple-like — feature where you can click on a number of people individually and then drag them en masse to a group, an action accompanied by some swooping into a bundle of little cards, held together with a paper clip, before bouncing into the right circle.