The Google+ project was rolled out in a limited beta edition this week. Google designed the service to tie together all of its online properties, laying the foundation for a full-fledged social network (check the Interactive Tour of the Google+ project here.)
A new social network is structured in remarkably similar fashion to Facebook, with profile pictures and newsfeeds forming a central core. User’s friends or contacts are grouped into very specific “Circles” of their choosing. The idea of “Circles” is simple: you don’t have just one kind of friend, and you shouldn’t have just one kind of online social circle.
Unlike Facebook, Google+ allows you to create a whole bunch of circles (co-workers, best friends, relatives) and share content and comments specifically with each circle. Another function of Google+ is so-called “Sparks” feature, which is a variation on the Facebook “like” functionality: see something you like, and you can instantly post it to your profile.
Google is betting on a better approach to privacy — a hot-button issue that has burned Facebook in the past.“For us, privacy isn’t buried six panels deep,” affirmed Google Vice President of Product Management Bradley Horowitz.
Facebook, which has been criticized for its confusing privacy controls, also works at defence of private information. It introduced a feature last year that lets users create smaller groups of friends. Google, without mentioning Facebook by name, said other social networking services’ attempts to create groups have been “bolt-on” efforts that do not work as well.
“We learned a lot in Buzz, and one of the things we learned is that there’s a real market opportunity for a product that addresses people’s concerns around privacy and how their information is shared,” said Bradley Horowitz, the vice-president and the Google’s products manager.
Back in February of 2010 Google introduced a social media service called Google Buzz. But that didn’t work out so well. Now Google is really taking on Facebook, not just in a half-hearted kind of way. Witness the unveiling of Google+, a full-featured social network.
Google executive Vic Gundotra wrote in a statement announcing Google+: “Today, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools. In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it. We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software.”
“You and over a billion others trust Google, and we don’t take this lightly,” Gundotra wrote. “In fact we’ve focused on the user for over a decade: liberating data, working for an open Internet, and respecting people’s freedom to be who they want to be. We realize, however, that Google+ is a different kind of project, requiring a different kind of focus – on you.”
Rory Maher, an analyst with Hudson Square Research, said that enticing consumers from one social network to another will not be easy. He affirmed: “They’re going to have an uphill battle due to Facebook’s network effects. The more users Facebook get, the harder it gets for Google to steal those.” But he added that popularity of Google in Web search and email could help it gain a following.
Despite the fact that Google is very popular and drew more than 1 billion visitors worldwide to its websites in May, more than any other company (according to Web analytics firm comScore), people are spending more time on Facebook: the average U.S. visitor spent 375 minutes on Facebook in May, compared with 231 minutes for Google.