Google launches its answer to Facebook with Google +
This has been the longest time coming. We first heard about Google’s planned social network, then dubbed Google Me it more than a year ago and now Google has finally unveiled its social networking answer to Facebook called the Google+ project. It brings together a number of different Google tools in one place and it looks very much like Facebook. That tells you most of what you need to know.
Google + offers essentially the same services as Facebook except on the open web. That and, of course, there are very few people using it. That might change. Giving Google credit, Google + does take steps forward in that it allows you to take a slightly more selective approach to social networking in that it recognises that not all “relationships are created equal” and that not all social networking needs to be universal in nature.
The Google + project is made up of Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and mobile and it is beginning in field trial so, as it puts it, “you may find some rough edges”, and at the moment it is by invitation only.
Will people switch to Google +?
This is Google’s big roll of the dice and it emphasises that this is an open project. In that way it isn’t Facebook. Facebook is closed to the outside world and it is the walled garden of social networks. In its favour Facebook has 750 million members and long established networks of friends. It has momentum.
What Google wants us to do is make the switch. Will people do that? Tough call. Google + looks good, but the toughest thing about any kind of networking is building those networks in the first place. It is hard work. And once you have them, well, there they are. The other tough thing about social groups is starting over.
That is what Facebook has working for it and what Google has working against it. Inertia is the biggest enemy of change and Google’s biggest challenge. On first look Google + tinkers with, but doesn’t fundamentally reshape the social networking question or offer a different answer. There is, at present, a good reason for that.
If you really want to see how much like Facebook it is look at this screen grab (via SAI) and you can see how all these different parts of Google + look on your screen. So what’s on offer?
Inside Google +
What Google + allows people to do is organise their lives into constituent groups and share with those groups what you would share in the real world. In that sense it is a definite evolution, a step forward, allowing you to share one thing with university friends another with parents, and almost nothing with your boss…
It makes perfect sense. Google + recognises that people get annoyed on Facebook by some who are always sharing with everyone about one particular topic. I know I am guilty of this when I share, or over share, interests in certain subjects. Until now there has been no way to say that this status update only applies (is only of interest to) to friends who are interested in softball, music, books or horses. Or happen to be family members.
The problem is as Google says that today’s online services turn “friendship into fast food—wrapping” and everyone becomes a “friend”. That is certainly true on Facebook. It argues that because of this universal sharing, sharing as a whole suffers.
It is a nice way of putting it. Facebook should fix that.
Google calls it sloppy (are you listening young Zuckerberg?) as most of the time we only want to connect with certain people at certain times although online we hear from everyone all the time so that every online conversation takes place (in essence) with over 100 “friends”. Or 150 or 500.
More selective sharing” – Google Circles
In light of these shortcomings Google asked the question ‘What do people actually do?’ And it came up with the answer that in fact people share selectively all the time—with their circles.
“From close family to foodies, we found that people already use real-life circles to express themselves, and to share with precisely the right folks. So we did the only thing that made sense: we brought Circles to software. Just make a circle, add your people, and share what’s new—just like any other day:”
Google Sparks — finding the content you want to share
We all have our healthy obsessions. We’re interested in film, comics, or vinyl, or fashion and whatever it is this part of Google + simply allows you to find that content that leads to sharing and sparks conversations. See what they did there? It is the universal spark of social networking.
“The web, of course, is filled with great content—from timely articles to vibrant photos to funny videos. And great content can lead to great conversations. We noticed, however, that it’s still too hard to find and share the things we care about—not without lots of work, and lots of noise. So, we built an online sharing engine called Sparks.
“Thanks to Google’s web expertise, Sparks delivers a feed of highly contagious content from across the Internet. On any topic you want, in over 40 languages. Simply add your interests, and you’ll always have something to watch, read and share—with just the right circle of friends:”
Google +Hangouts: the video chat bit
Here you can video chat with people from your various circles whether it’s inside a pub or a coffee shop — its hang time.
“With Google+ we wanted to make on-screen gatherings fun, fluid and serendipitous, so we created Hangouts. By combining the casual meetup with live multi-person video, Hangouts lets you stop by when you’re free, and spend time with your Circles. Face-to-face-to-face”.
Google +Mobile sharing
Not much to say here. Its mobile uploading. Instant upload of your photos. Just like on Facebook and Twitter.
“Getting photos off your phone is a huge pain, so most of us don’t even bother. Of course pictures are meant to be shared, not stranded, so we created Instant Upload to help you never leave a photo behind. While you’re snapping pictures, and with your permission, Google+ adds your photos to a private album in the cloud. This way they’re always available across your devices—ready to share as you see fit.”
This is the Google Groups bits it allows you to group chat with your friends and you can use your phone to do it to via an Android app. This kind of stuff is gold and so useful if you’re trying to organise a bunch of friends. Group messaging on a phone is a perfect modern distillation of social networking.
“Coordinating with friends and family in real-time is really hard in real life. After all, everyone’s on different schedules, in different places, and plans can change at any moment. Phone calls and text messages can work in a pinch, but they’re not quite right for getting the gang together. So Google+ includes Huddle, a group messaging experience that lets everyone inside the circle know what’s going on, right this second.”
Starting today Google+ is available on Android Market and the mobile web, and it’s coming soon to the App Store.
So what do we think?
There is nothing here that I can see persuading large numbers of people to suddenly switch social networks. And Google needs a lot to switch.
Switching social networks is becoming like changing banks. The more people you add, the more groups you join, the bigger the hassle involved in moving.
Having and running two general social networks is not something that most want to do. It is one or the other. Sure most of us have Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but each fulfil a role for us. Adding Google + would be like having two general social networks. Two Facebooks.
I wonder after the failures of Google Buzz and Google Wave if Google has just taken too long and allowed Facebook to get too big?
Facebook has achieved a level of universal appeal and usage that is hard to beat. It started out as university friends and it has now ballooned to include friends of all kinds. Not only that but family as well. There are plenty of people who have their grandparents on Facebook. Who is going to get them to switch?