Google is a term that has become synonymous with Internet technology: they dominate the search engine market and with Gmail, they are rapidly gaining ground as the leader in email and webmail. Google Chrome is used by millions of people to browse the web and Picasa is widely adopted for online photo sharing. Need to find directions to your destination? Chances are you’ll be using Google Maps for that. Social Networking is one arena in which Google has yet to dominate, but that may change very soon with the introduction of Google+.
Google has tried to challenge Facebook for the throne of social networking supremacy before and failed miserably. Their last attempt, Google Buzz, didn’t get too far along and failed to attract users away from the social networking leader. Google+ is a new approach to challenge Facebook for the social networking crown, and it definitely adds some features that could help it to gain some market share. According to Google, “online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.” To do that, their goal is to make all of their services compatible with Google+ for an integrated experience for their users.
Everything revolves around the Stream, which is similar to the Facebook Newsfeed: updates and information are found here. Google+ is utilizing a new technique for sharing with your people called Circles, which allows you to categorize your contacts in to multiple groupings. Unlike Facebook Lists, you can choose to share with only the people in your Circle, which I find to be a great feature. For example, if I post something and share it with my “Family” Circle and my “Friends” Circle, people in my “Acquaintances” Circle won’t see it. This type of selective organization for updates is needed on Facebook, and I’m sure that they’ll be clamoring to add something similar soon.
Hangouts allow Google+ users to participate in video chats with multiple users, something that most video calling services do not offer. You can start a Hangout and invite selected people to join you in a video chat that utilizes Google Talk technology that facilitates this experience. Sparks are the way Google+ allows you to share and follow your areas of interest, which then add content to your Stream for your enjoyment and edification. Of course, you can share photos and other pieces of information on your profile so that people can find out more about you. This, of course, brings us to the privacy settings on Google+.
Privacy is a big issue for Google with this attempt at social networking. One of the biggest reasons Google Buzz failed was due to privacy concerns, so they’ve revamped their security on Google+, but like Facebook, take care to set your privacy settings the way you want them. Circles allows you a good deal of privacy by only electing to share certain information with certain circles, but be sure to go through and look at those settings.
Only time will tell how people receive Google+; it is currently being rolled out on an invitation-only basis so that Google can kick the tires and address issues on a smaller scale before opening it up to the world. My light usage of Google+ has been enjoyable thus far, but it has a long way to go before it can honestly challenge Facebook.