There was no glitzy press event, not a firework to be seen, or in truth, much noise at all as Google+ was finally announced to the world this week. Led by the company’s senior vp of engineering Vic Gundotra rather than a full-on PR onslaught, Google’s challenger to Facebook’s social networking domination announced itself in modest fashion and aims to let the product do the talking this time around.
I’m one of the 200,000 test users, invited to use the BETA version and identify any flaws around usability and privacy policies which dogged Google’s last foray into social networking, the much heralded, yet ultimately lame duck Buzz. And, let’s face it, Google+ has one hell of a job on its hands if it is to become the social media weapon of choice for the masses, such is the stranglehold that Zuckerberg et al have on this sector.
The key differentiator between Facebook seems to be the concept of Circles, which allows the user more control over which information is shared with different parts of their social circle. It should help tackle the age old problem of not sharing those embarrassing Ibiza holiday pics with your client and also means drunken status updates should find their way to the chosen few who understand these deranged 2am ramblings, rather than your local parish priest. In all seriousness, it addresses the issue of boundaries between work, friends and all that falls in between. We don’t want to be rude by not opening those channels of communication, yet we need to keep that personal distance.
Google+ also incorporates a feature called Hangout, which despite rating high on the cheesy American Richter scale, is actually a fairly well assembled group video option. Essentially, you let other users know you are available to ‘hang out’ and they can join you via video. This highlights one of the key bugbears users have with social media, the idea that we should let people know if we are available to speak, rather than ignoring their Facebook chat message because we are either too busy or too hungover to hold down an exchange.
For photo junkies, Google+ allows users to share photos straight from mobile devices (depending on privacy settings) to their account, hosting the images in the cloud so they can be accessed pretty much anywhere. It’s a cool feature, and this idea of storing data, such as photos on the Internet and use devices almost purely as access points is one we will surely see more of.
Yet, now may be the perfect time for Google to make its push. If recent reports around ‘Facebook Fatigue’ are to be believed, the first signs of decline in the number of users and frustration from its user base are now showing, opening a gap perfectly shaped for Google.
I’ll continue to blog about my experiences with Google+ over the coming weeks and months.