Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Google Plus Brings a New Challenger to Facebook

UPDATE: I'm now on Google Plus. I believe it is still an invite only service. However, if you manage to get in, you can add me. (Steven Styffe)

Just last week, Google announced a new social networking platform called Google Plus. Google Plus is designed to allow people to connect with friends in a way very familiar to Facebook. In fact, the media and press have even described it as a direct competitor to Facebook. There are a few key features to this new social network that I will explain further.

The first core feature of Plus is social “circles”, which allows you to make groups of friends in certain categories. For example, you could have one circle of friends be all of your co-workers, and another circle be designated for friends you have close relationships with. You can interact with certain circles of friends or with all of your friends. These social groups will allow you to organize and publish only certain content to certain circles of friends. You can control what groups have access to certain information on your profile as well. This is similar to what Facebook has attempted to do with its “lists” feature, but it wasn’t quite as successful and wasn’t quite as elaborate as Google’s social circles.

Another central feature of Google Plus is “Hangouts.” With Hangouts, the idea is that you can have a group video chat from your computer or mobile device with a certain circle of friends, or with any combination of friends. Google is trying to advertise this as a way for anyone to meet with their friends unexpectedly at any time, without barriers. This could be a great way to meet with old friends or regular colleagues without hassle. Ironically enough, Facebook is rumored to have reached a deal with Skype to do something familiar to Hangouts.

If you’ve ever used Facebook to like a certain topic or page on Facebook, then you already have the concept of Sparks, another feature in Google Plus. Sparks allows you to add topics of interest to your Google Plus profile, so when you have a moment, you can view content that is related to those interests you have added. Such content could be a video, a song, or even something as simple as a news article. It is pre-determined content based on your interests, in other words, it’s not content you choose, but rather content determined to be related to your interest.

There have been many failed attempts at making group messaging simple, but Google Plus is allegedly supposed to change that with “Huddles.” Huddles are a group messaging system that you can use to form group conversations. Currently though, it only works from a mobile device. However, Google Plus is still in its early phase and that problem, along with others, will probably be fixed over time. Huddles will allow you to let people join in on your conversation and make it a group conversation where you can all collaborate.

As you can expect with Google Plus, Google has dedicated smartphone applications available for Android. The iOS app for iPhone and iPad has been submitted to the Apple App Store for approval and we have yet to hear about a decision from Apple. (At least at the time of this writing.) Google will make great strides to support smartphones through dedicated apps as well as a mobile-device formatted website.

Based on what I have seen so far, Google Plus looks like it is aiming directly at Facebook and possibly even Twitter. Of course, Plus is still in its early phase, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Currently, Google is not handing out invitations to the service due to high demand, but hopefully, they will open it back up on an invitation basis and eventually, it will become public. If you’re still curious and would like a little more visual representation of what Google Plus is about, you can visit their website.

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