There are many that felt Google couldn't do social, that they just didn't get it; the disappointments of Wave and Buzz seemed to back this up. Social layers and the +1 button gave the impression that Google was taking a piecemeal approach to social and would not arrive with a cohesive strategy.
How wrong could we be?
Plus definitely feels like a new start. For a "field test" it is a remarkably mature offering which goes way beyond the simple stream of status updates. I won't go in to details here as the features within Plus have been covered in-depth elsewhere but, suffice to say, the likes of Hangouts and Spark are big differentiators and there is more to come.
We may be adding the same people to our Circles that we connect with elsewhere but the very act of adding them to a specific Circle at the outset (rather than adding them to a list later) sets Google+ apart. If you are using the service as it is envisioned then adding every friend and making every share is a very conscious decision as to the intent behind that action.
There is obviously the choice of just throwing everyone in your "Following" Circle but it's what else you do that which makes it interesting.
A daunting prospect?
Perhaps having to add people this way from the beginning may seem a little daunting to some - with the likes of Twitter we are not used to dividing up our "friends" in this way and Facebook groups are tucked away and under-utilised. I wonder how many will just use Following with the best intentions of filling their Circles later but never get around to it or, as Scoble says, may never even need to distinguish between their friends.
For those with small, focused followings Google+ probably isn't the place to be. Facebook and Twitter serve the instant social gratification needs of the masses perfectly well and the majority will neither need, nor ever use, more advanced features like multi-person video conferencing.
Personally, I can see a number of use cases where Plus will come in to its own. I instantly had the idea of creating a Circle called "The Wall" that I can use as a sounding board for posts, ideas etc. I can throw things at the wall and see what sticks with the members of that Circle being real-time editors or quality control.
Feature rich and fully formed
Google may be calling this a field test but Plus feels far from it.Yes, there are a few niggles nere and there such as muting alerts for posts not always working and not being able to edit your posts in either the mobile site or Android application but, from the time that I have spent using the service so far, it is amazing how feature rich and "whole" it all feels.
It is obvious that a lot of man hours have been spent developing Google+ and it is a miracle that it has been kept under wraps with barely a sniff of what was being planned leaking out.
Plus may not be for everyone and it may not entice those firmly entrenched on Facebook to jump ship but it will, without doubt, change the social space for good. Teams can be more productive, people can connect in more natural ways without fear of those connections spilling out in to the public domain and the technology involved will force others to step up or go home.
We have already been advised that the current tools within Google+ are just the beginning. Rumours of games and a Quora-like questions feature are abound and discussion has already taken place about a crossover between your social circle and your interest circle.
I have been advocating for a while that Google needed to create a cohesive, wide ranging offering based on its profile system; Plus is so much more than this and far beyond a traditional social network - the competition could suffer as a result.
Lead image by Leo Reynolds