It looks like Facebook. It’s blurb sounds like Facebook. If you got up close, it probably even smell’s like Facebook, but this is Google entering the social networking arena…again.
A select band of people (were you one?) were this week invited into Google’s latest project – a social networking service called Google PLUS.
Those selected few will also soon be able to invite others and the idea is to let people share and discuss status updates, photos and links as you would in Facebook but in a more intimate group. Small groups or ‘Circles’ is the focus – colleagues, best mates, sportsteam teammates etc – and for that purpose there are group text messaging and video chat facilities built into the network.
The Google line is it is more like real life, you have more control and more privacy: “In real life, we have walls and windows and I can speak to you knowing who’s in the room, but in the online world, you get to a ‘Share’ box and you share with the whole world,” said Bradley Horowitz, a vice president of product management at Google.
Pitched by anybody else and actually it probably sounds like a poor-imitation of what is already out there. Yet this is Google saying this and backing the project so people will sit up and take notice. The biggest issue is whether the heavily scientific and engineered approach that has seen Google become so successful using algorithms and data analysis, can be converted to a more touchy-feely and informal approach that social networking thrives on. What Google hopes is that people will sign up with PLUS to enable them to get at least some insight into the valuable world that is developing in social networks in terms of advertising data and trends that so often is not accessible to Google’s search robots or experts.
The ‘reality’ approach includes an attempt to mimic those occasions when people want to be your friend when you don’t really care. Unlike on Facebook, people do not have to agree to be friends with one another. Via your circles however you can have greater control over who sees what about you. So you effectively get more than one persona. The multiple personality aspect is promoted as a benefit and can offer greater control, but could also offer its own difficulties and dangers of course.
The potential winner as we see it at the moment is ‘Sparks’ which is a push type notification of “what you’re into and … stuff it thinks you’ll like”. It may sound a bit Big Brotheresque but the viral aspect and shared interests appeal of Twitter and Facebook could be amplified by this tool.
Google has of course launched big ideas before and then slowly retreated but expect it to push and bang the drum on this one more and more as the year progresses and they tweak based on feedback from a growing user base.
Have you had an invite to Google PLUS? Have you taken the plunge? What are your thoughts?