Google+ Seems Adequate, But May Sneak Up on Us


ADOTAS – How cute — TechCrunch and Mashable got sneak peeks at Google’s latest attempt at building a social network, something that has been rumored about for a year at least (remember Google Me?). I’ll Wave while all the Buzz passes by.

Actually it sounds less like a social network and exactly what Google has said it’s going to do — socialize its core components, but hopefully not in a way that makes users call their lawyers and the Federal Trade Commission lob more penalties on the internet Goliath. Thus the name Google+ is appropriate — it’s pretty much all the Google services you’re used to with more social integration and interconnectedness.

The key component is a black bar codenamed the “Sandbar,” which will be omnipresent across Google products. It enables easy sharing of content with groups of friends and will include notifications, Facebook-style. Also like Facebook, there’s a stream of status updates and user posts on the homepage.

The group assembly technology, Circles, definitely has a leg up on Facebook — you simply drag and drop your Google contacts into circular groups. Then there’s Sparks, a new recommendation/discovery engine. You type in interests, which can be saved for future access and shown to your contacts, and Google provides search results that are based on its Search product, +1 data and popular items going around Google+. Similar to what Facebook does with Bing’s search, the Like button and popular activity.

Hangout is pretty much a chat room that is video enabled — when a user starts a hangout, he or she sends a message out inviting friends for to come jaw for a spell. There doesn’t seem to be a highlighted events feature, but Google Calendar is integrated as a core component.

And yes, Google is planning to release mobile apps with direct access into + services, including ones specifically integrated into the Android mobile operating system. When you take a photo with your Android phone, you can dash it right to Picasa.

For advertisers, it’ll be interesting if Google develops sponsored posts along the lines of Twitter and Facebook, or if there are sponsored Sparks or highlighted interests within it along the lines of StumbleUpon.

For all appearances, Google+ seems likes an adequate Facebook alternative. No doubt Facebook is already revamping its Groups features to compete with Circles. The video chat options I’m sure will lure in those pissed with Skype.

But I keep returning to my thoughts at the beginning of the year — Facebook has become the default social network; about half the U.S. population has a profile and a good percentage of the rest likely don’t want one. Beyond that, I see people reaching out to connect on niche social networks based on interests — pretty much the heirs to message boards, but imbued with all the social goodies Internet users have come to expect (demand?).

With Google+, it’s hard not see parallels between Bing struggling to grab search share from Google. The real differentiator between Facebook and + is Circles, which enables users to easily build smaller social networks, possibly based on interests. Facebook isn’t about meeting new people but managing contacts; in theory Google has created a better system for that.

However, users head to niche social networks to connect with smaller groups based on interests — as well as meet new people. There’s an advantage to getting away from your grander network. (And for marketers, there are far more opportunities to reach influencers on niche social networks.)

It feels like Google missed its chance last year when ire over the ever-changing Facebook privacy policy peaked. Well, it didn’t miss but rather whiffed with the half-baked Google Buzz, which social SVP Vic Gundrota admits failed to live up to expectations.

Circles is certainly useful (which is why I’m sure we’ll see a Facebook equivalent in no time), but is it enough to make users switch over? I mean, I just got my Facebook the way I like it!

Well, maybe not intentionally — Google+ seems carefully designed to lure in Gmail users, who already have “profiles” (just not necessarily public). Opposed to the hacked-on Buzz, which Google pretty much pushed on its users, Google+ seems far more inviting and likely to draw curiosity. Hey Gmail user, here’s a cool thing you can do… But only with Google+.

Mashable’s Ben Parr even wonders if the interest will compare to that when Gmail came out — invitations for the beta are already way gone. It’s kinda ingenious — by not making a social network per se and just socializing core components, Google+ may win you over before you even notice it.

Maybe it’s that kind of thinking that got the FTC anti-trust unit’s attention.



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