Google’s Answer to Facebook: Google+
It looks like the long-predicted showdown between Google and Facebook is about to begin!
Although the two companies have very different businesses, the rapid increase in Facebook traffic has made the company, at least indirectly, a potential competitor for online ad dollars. Recent studies show that Google still gets more “page views” than Facebook (Google delivered over one billion page views in May 2011), but users spend more time on the Facebook site.
Like versus +1
Although people still rely on search engines when locating products or services, social recommendations are becoming important as well… so much so that Google actually counts Facebook “Likes” as one factor in determining a website’s search engine rank. In March 2001, Google announced it’s own social recommendation tool, a Google “+1 button” similar to the Facebook “Like button.”
The announcement of the new feature was very low-key, and left lots of unanswered questions, leading commentators to speculate that the “+1″ button might be part of a broader strategy… a guess which is now confirmed.
The Rest of the Story: Google+
Google has already stated that Google+ is a work-in-progress (and there will be continuous improvements and more features in the near future), but the initial release is pretty cool.
Unlike Facebook, which has become increasingly complicated and cumbersome, the Google+ interface is clean and simple… just as we’ve come to expect from Google.
The initial release includes several features:
The Google+ Bar
After you sign up for Google+, a new menu will appear at the top of the page wherever you visit a Google site (Google, YouTube, Google Maps, etc), providing instant access to all your Google+ features and content.
The +1 Button
Use the +1 button to share your recommendations with your friends. Relevant things that you have “plused” will show up when your friends use the Google search engine… a huge advantage that Google has over Facebook.
(See the Google +1 button next to the Facebook Like button on and New-York-Chinatown.info, some of many websites already taking advantage of the new feature.)
Your profile allows you to publish information about yourself, and to post things you’d like to share.
Google seems to have learned from Facebook’s mistakes; the profile contains strong privacy settings so you can control who sees your information.
This is one of the coolest features of Google+… you can group your friends and contacts into sets (called “circles”), so you can share things with just your family, just your co-workers, and so on. The same person can be listed in several circles if you want.
A hangout is like an old-fashioned chat room. You can let your friends know when you are online, and get together for a group chat (with text, voice and video).
A “huddle” is a simple text conference that lets you and several friends share messages. Decide where to meet for dinner, share the latest rumor, or ?
Set up custom feeds, based on your own interested, and powered by Google search, so you’ll always have something interesting to watch or read.
Mobile features are built right in to Google+. Instantly upload photos, check in with friends, start a huddle, post to your page, and more.
A lot of the energy that made Facebook such a huge success came from third-party apps. Many people joined Facebook just to play Farmville or Mafia Wars. So far, Google has not announced any plans to allow third parties to develop applications for Google+.
Also, social tools depend on wide acceptance. It’s no fun hanging out in a place that none of your friends know about! The success of Google+ may depend on how quickly Google can roll out the service and get users to join.
It’s a Social Network – but You Can’t Join!
I should note that Google+ is currently (June 30,) undergoing testing. Due to massive demand after the announcement, Google shut down new sign-ups, and they have not yet announced a date for public release. The initial rollout will probably be similar to gmail, with users being given a small number of “invitations” to share with their friends.
I will update this page as more info becomes available.
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