Update: Nintendo has responded to us concerning how the dashboard messages are selected. This was its reply:
"The most discussed topics in Miiverse - e.g. specific games, applications, boss battles, user accomplishments, etc. - will be displayed on Wii U's main menu. Before that content is posted to the main menu it will be screened and filtered to ensure that it is appropriate for everyone."
Miiverse is essentially a series of message boards. You can post a message - either a drawing or text limited to 100 characters - in a "community" (i.e. thread) devoted to a particular game. You'll then be notified anytime someone responds to it.
My first sample post was in the ZombiU community where I wrote, "How y'all liking Zombi U so far? Brits love it. Americans not so much. Wonder if it's a cultural thing" (Yes, I left off a period. 100 characters isn't much!)
Some person quickly gave my post a "Yeah," Miiverse parlance for a Facebook "like."
A few other people responded saying that they dug the game. Their responses popped up under my "Notifications" tab on the side, letting me know that people had either given my post a "Yeah" or written a response. There's also an "Activity Feed," that lets you see what your friends are posting. In this regard, it's very much like Facebook.
Unlike Facebook, you can report spoilers and violations. I tested this on a poor friend of mine by saying his message had spoilers. You're then asked to provide a reason the post is spoilery or inappropriate and moderators will decide if it fits the bill. If it's simply spoilers, it will stay up, but become invisible under a spoiler warning that needs to be clicked on to read (players can put spoiler warning on their own messages, too). Regarding my friend's message, all he said was "Flying clouds," but I still got it spoiler-alerted. (Sorry, Jarrett!)
Offensive messages, however, get taken down. To test this, I tried posting a message that read, "This game f***ing rules" in the New Super Mario Bros U community and it was removed in less than five minutes.
Curiously, what people are saying about a game pops up momentarily on one's dashboard. Simply press the power button and you'll come to a screen showing several different titles with tons of Miis mingling in the background. Random messages pop up giving a cursory overview of what people are saying or drawing right now. Pics of Link and Pikachu are common, as are messages asking if certain games are any good. What I don't totally understand yet is how Nintendo prevents the more offensive messages from reaching this state. Is someone approving all of these before they reach dashboard circulation? I've asked Nintendo for comment and will update as I find out more.
Elsewhere, friends can send each other direct messages through the Miiverse, which can be accessed during a game by hitting the home menu, similar to the Xbox 360 dashboard (though the Miiverse takes an extra few frustrating seconds to boot up). Thankfully, the GamePad's virtual keyboard is a godsend compared to entering text with an Xbox 360 controller or Dualshock.
Clicking on someone's profile allows you to look at all their past messages, which is nice if you want to know what your friends think about a particular game. In this case, I know my friend's copy of Assassin's Creed 3 froze after 10 minutes and Steve Haske was being a "punk" during during New Super Mario Bros. U's Rise of the Piranha Plants level. Why you gotta be like that, Steve?
This makes the Miiverse sort of like a mixture between Gamefaqs, Twitter, and Facebook. It's great for quick comments and if it catches on, I could see it as a convenient way for friends to share brief thoughts on games with each other in an unobtrusive, easy to access manner. Of course, that's going to be a tough sell since we already live in a world with Facebook and Twitter, but in terms of communicating over consoles it's a surprisingly elegant system.
Less elegant is Wii U Chat, Nintendo's take on Facetime. It works quite well when you're on a call, but you can't do this while mid-game. If a call comes in while you're playing ZombiU for instance - as it did for me - you'll have to close the software to answer. As such, I don't foresee it being used very often.
It's worth a shot though, if only to see the amazing visual effects that accompany a call. The image of the person you're talking to gradually comes into view ala a liquid kaleidoscope-like filter, not a million miles away from a Wayne's World flashback transition. Even better is when you end a call you're asked to wave and the screen gradually fills with a bright white light as if the person you're chatting with is ascending into heaven. It's absolutely nuts and worth checking out for the novelty factor alone, even if its actual application is horribly impractical.
Ultimately, the WiiU's social features are much improved from what we're used to from Nintendo. It's just a matter of whether the audience embraces the Miiverse or forgets about it shortly after launch because they can't draw dicks.
Behold, this touching moment of Iwata and Reggie using Wii U Chat.