There’s been a lot of buzz about Google’s new “Google +” service lately. But what exactly is Google +? Moreover, how does it work? Some of you might say it’s basically a Google-designed version of Facebook-and while it’s true that Google + most certainly is a social networking site,simply dismissing it as a Facebook clone is, well…not exactly correct. There’s a bit more to it than that.
And it’s not just Facebook that Google+ is looking to conquer.
This isn’t the first time Google’s tried its hand at social media. That knowledge alone could potentially turn a few folks away from Plus: Google’s previous attempts were utter failures, and failed to even make a dent in Facebook’s user base. Thing is, Google didn’t really do social networking right in any of those cases. Buzz didn’t offer users anything unique or new that differentiated it from Twitter and facebook, and came prepackaged with a boring, drab interface to boot. As if that wasn’t enough, at launch, there was a massive outcry about how Buzz constituted a gross invasion of privacy; allegations which eventually lead to a full investigation against Google. Orkut, while it enjoyed success in countries such as Brazil and India, failed to grab anyone in the North American or European markets- difficulties with sharing, concerns about security and a lack of entertainment styled apps ensured that it had no chance against the social networking colossi of Facebook and Twitter. Except that it’s still the most popular platform in Brazil, for some reason.
And let’s not even bother discussing Google Wave.
Google learns from its mistakes, though. Back in May they openly admitted they totally botched the whole social media scene back when they were first getting into it; at the same time posting a job opening for a social media guru. Basically, they wanted someone to show them the error of their ways, and help them make right their past mistakes. Not something you see often in the business world- companies don’t really like to openly admit that they’ve messed up. Bad PR, and all that.
So what did Google do wrong with its previous social networking platforms? Their mistakes were many and myriad, but chief among them? They tried to replace Gmail. Rather than attempting to integrate buzz with their already existing services, they required users to create a separate account for Buzz. But they’re approaching everything from a different angle now. Rather than bullheadedly trying to crap out a new, isolated platform, they went for complete, seamless integration with their already established apps and platforms. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps…it’s all there, and now there’s a social networking interface to boot.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Google +.
Launched on June 28, 2011, the software’s still in the beta stage- only a select few individuals (and the folks who’ve managed to score invites from those individuals- myself among them) have access to the platform at the current juncture, while Google irons out all the bugs. Word is, Google’s planning on launching the platform on or before July 31-at the very least, those of you who desperately desire to get involved and make yourself a profile won’t have to wait much longer. Now, history lessons aside, you still want to know why exactly Google + is something to be excited about, right? You’re looking for an explanation of what differentiates it from every other social networking website out there.
Let’s have a look, shall we?
Google+ And Google Accounts
So, as I’ve already touched on, Google + basically has complete integration with a number of Google’s other services- which, in turn, are virtually all tied to one’s Google account. So how exactly does this manifest itself? Basically, if you’re using a Google service- or browsing on a Google website, you’ll see a few new addition to the Google bar (a site-wide, non-intrusive addition to Google’s websites)-namely, a link to your Google + account, a notifications indicator, and a ‘share’ box and button. So…basically, Google + lets you stay connected to it, even if you aren’t on the site at the time. Plus, your Google + page links directly to your pre-existing Google profile. I don’t know about you, but I liked the fact that I didn’t have to redo my profile page overmuch to get started on the site.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they expanded this integration beyond just Google accounts. I mean, it would make perfect sense for them to develop an extension that integrates Plus directly into their Chrome browser, would it not? Then, instead of only being connected to one’s Google + profile while on a Google site, one could be connected anywhere, at any time. Such a thing might seem unnecessary for a lot of you, but for a lot of folks who live and breathe on the social networking scene…it’s a considerable boon, and one that just might cause some trouble for Facebook. Then again, with the Facebook-Rockmelt partnership, integrating Google + into Chrome might be a necessity as competing with Facebook is concerned. It all depends on where Facebook goes with the recent deal- but either way, integration with Chrome seems a natural next step for Google +.
Anyway, long story short; your Google Account is linked directly to Google +, and that’s pretty awesome. That isn’t all that differentiates Google’s new platform from the other social networking spots.
Circles, Sparks, and Hangouts
Let’s take a look at three of the most often-touted features of Google’s latest brainchild.
First up, Circles. Circles is basically the Facebook friends list. You can organize your friends into groups, and set out what content each group can see…you know the drill. But while Facebook’s friends list is all one massive clump by default (you need to organize friends into separate groups after adding them to your list or set permissions for individual people; a process that tends to get rather cumbersome as one’s list of contacts expands), Google + has you organize your contacts into ‘circles’ by default. See, the way they’ve set it out is that; just like people have different ‘social circles’ in real life, so too can users of Google + have different social circles online. The whole process feels a lot more intuitive and streamlined than Facebook’s fashion of handling friends. You can control who you hear from and when, as well as who hears from you and when. In concordance with Circles, and Google + Mobile, there’s also a feature called Huddle. It’s essentially a group messaging system. You can send instant messages to everyone in a particular circle of friends; a function which makes co ordination and organization of group events and the like far, far easier.
Next up, we’ve got Sparks. This feature utilizes Google’s incredibly formidable search engine. With Sparks, you add an interest to your page (or type a keyword/interest into the Sparks search bar) and it will provide you with content that fits the keywords. It’s a lot like the Google Alerts system, except it’s centralized in your Google + profile. Each link and story in the Sparks feed has a ‘share’ button at the bottom of it, allowing you to easily nab it and post it on your Google + feed- naturally, picking and choosing which circles can see it. If you like the content another of your friends posts, you can “+1″ the content(basically, Google +’s version of ‘likes’). Standard stuff, right?
Finally-and this is the feature I’m most excited about- we’ve got Hangouts. Now, I’m going to say something about Facebook…I loathe Facebook chat. Ninety percent of the time it doesn’t work right, and even when it does, it’s still vastly inferior to, well…pretty much every other chat program available. Google’s attempting to one-up Facebook chat with Google +. Not only do they have the standard Gmail chat (which is pretty decent, in itself) but they’re also including a feature known as Google Hangouts. Basically, it’s a multi-user video chat, where people can potentially come and go as they like. When you start a hangout, you basically send a signal out to other people on your contacts list that you’re available to, well…’hang out’. You can also play videos from Youtube for everyone in the chat, as well. Not too shabby, eh?
Final Thoughts: Is Google + A Facebook Killer?
Google + is smooth and functional. It looks good, and comes packed with a plethora of awesome features- as well as the possibility of a hell of a lot more. With the wide array of services Google currently offers, the potential for G+ is basically straight through the roof. You’ve got Google Chrome, Google Music, Google Maps…all of these could very easily find seamless integration with Google +. Facebook’s been reigning virtually unchallenged in the social networking arena, and for the first time since its initial rise to power, it looks like there might actually be a website that could compete with Zuckerberg’s social networking titan. That’s pretty damned significant, if you think about it.
At the same time, though…Facebook’s rather thoroughly entrenched within the lives of many of its users. Google’s going to need to up the ante a bit if they’re going to pull some of the more hardcore Facebook adherents away from the website. Offerings such as G+ games and the like (I hate to say it, but games like Farmville could definitely help here) would definitely be an asset; since that seems to be one thing Google + is definitely lacking at the current juncture. Even though Google + is a rather awesome service, Google’s still going to need some additional methods for enticing Facebookers away from the website that’s been their home for several years and counting. I leave the means by which they’ll do that up to them- Google’s no slouch when it comes to innovation.
So, is Google + a Facebook killer? At the moment, no- but the potential is there. It’s very difficult to say how successful G+ is going to be at the current time, given that it’s still in beta at the moment. Not all of the bugs have been ironed out, and not all of the features Google wants to add have been added. But my prediction?
If Google plays their cards right, Google + may very well eclipse and overthrow Facebook. At the very least, it’s going to force Facebook to make some improvements of its own, or be left behind when G + finally launches.