We’ve been hearing rumours of a Google social network for months as it tries to take on the likes of Facebook and Twitter that are increasingly dominating how people spend their time online, and finally they’ve delivered.
Google+ is not a social network by traditional terms along the lines of Facebook or MySpace, but more a collection of services that all offer social aspects – ways to interact with others through them. It is not, then, a place to find new “friends” (a la Facebook) or even followers (a la Twitter), but a place to interact with your current friends – those with which you want to share and interact without it being on view for the whole world. Yes you have a profile as on any other network and you can share your +1s, photos, links,and videos just like other social networks, but that is really incidental to Google+ as it stands.
Alongside the +1 and other sharing buttons that have appeared across various sites (including this one) over the last month, Google has introduced a number of new tools which I’ll describe below:
Circles is the central cog of Google+ as it is the place where you organise your friends into groups/lists known as “circles”. You import your contacts from GMail and drag and drop them into groups depending on your relationship with them, or your shared interests, or any other link you fancy. The aim is to keep your feed uncluttered and leave you free to see what your friends are up to that you are actually interested in rather than that constant overflow in Facebook and Twitter where everyone you know is treated relatively similarly in your feeds. Yes you have to create these lists, with Google not using some algorithm to do so – but this means you won’t be sharing that blue video with you boss by accident.
Sparks is the Google+ recommendation engine – where you tell it your interests and it will automatically present yo with content (articles, blog posts, videos, etc) in that field – with that content recommended by how often people are hitting those +1 buttons.
If you hit the hangout button then all your friends will see that you are available online and ready for an informal video chat. Most video chat is done with a specific purpose in mind and scheduled for a specific times these days – but Google is trying to change that. It’s different to the “I’m Online” link in Skype as the invitation here is an open one, and anyone can join in the chat even once you’ve began to speak to someone. It may get ignored by people, but it is an open invitation to interact casually via video – something people are yet to really do.
Group messaging is nothing new with BBM on Blackberry, iMessages on iOS, Beluga and a number of independent entries into the market – but no-one has yet dominated this field across devices. If you’ve already organised your friends into circles, then contacting just the right people should be pretty simple with Huddle which could give it a leg-up against current offerings.
Google+ will be available online (obviously), but also through a desktop app and on both iOS and Android. If it’s done right this could be the middle ground between over-sharing on Facebook because all your acquaintances are treated as friends and the under-sharing on Twitter because it is so very public – the real sharing for your real friends. And with Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac UI development team, on board – this thing actually looks good, something Google has traditionally not been so great at.
The Google+ Project is currently invite only.