Anyone remember Google Buzz? What about that revolutionary new tool Google Wave? Yep, Google have never really been very good a social networking. But the web’s biggest player isn’t done yet, they’ve an all new social tool, the rather lazily named Google+ is on the way.
I won’t deny, that as with Google’s last two ventures into the social space, I am pretty excited about Google+. They’ve always been pretty good at taking the best of the web and transforming it into something awesome (just look at how GMail changed webmail). But I do approach Google+ with quite a bit of skepticism, after all it’s not going to be easy to take the social crown away from Facebook.
But the Californian search giant does seem to have done quite a lot of thinking this time. Google+ is quite different to both Buzz and Wave (which were essentially the same thing, repackaged). They’ve concentrated a lot more on taking the social experience you have with your friends in the ‘real’ world, into their new online space.
The service revolves round five specific areas.
Circles – This could be likened to the current Facebook groups or Twitter lists. The idea is to put your friends into certain ‘circles’. You can then choose which circles you want to share specific updates with, in a sense similar to how you mix in different social circles in the real world (wonder where they got that name from). It’s a basic idea, but the interface is looking nice so far, a drag and drop system, making Facebook look a little ancient in comparison.
Hangouts – Take a multiway conversation like we used to see in MSN messenger, add Skype to it and then multiply by as many users as you like and you are left with ‘Hangouts’. The idea here is to bring the whole idea of a big group conversation to life online. The system is a little different to current services. Anyone can enter or leave a ‘hangout’ whenever they want. People can also talk at any time – whoever is talking at that moment (or talking the loudest!) will appear largest on the screen automatically – pretty clever. I don’t think it will quite replace actually hanging out with mates, but it’s certainly a more powerful and perhaps more importantly web-based way of live video-chatting – something even Skype hasn’t achieved yet.
Instant Upload – It is what it says. You take a picture on your Android (and possibly other OS’s) powered phone and it will be uploaded to your own private library online. You can then choose which circles see it. Personally, I think online uploads are already easy enough for the social networks, but Google disagrees claiming that this will take the pain out of getting pics from device to online.
Sparks – Despite all their many web apps and mobile OS’s, Google will always be best at search, so it’s no surprise it shows up prominently in Google+. Sparks help you find people you may be interested in by searching for specific topics. You can then save these searches for later, all very similar to Twitter’s search of the timeline.
Huddle – The final feature Google are previewing. Huddle takes the idea of instant messaging, puts it with text and then adds several participants. This can be used on your phone or online and is of course instant. Nothing that revolutionary here, perhaps the instant part of it, but still a necessary part of any social tool.
And that’s all we know so far. Google have claimed that all their services will be integrated into Google+ , so that means map sharing and YouTube will no doubt be part of it too as they were with Wave.
The ideas are there, the tech is there and the know-how is there – but there’s one more thing Google need, users. This was beyond anything else, the problem I encountered with both Wave and Buzz. It was hard to make use of the services when everyone else was using Facebook. By changing the name to Google+ ( a more obvious term)and integrating their services together (presumably straight off the webpages) they may attract that audience that they so vitally need.
I also think Google+ could be a winner for business use. Facebook doesn’t seem like the right tool, Twitter can be too basic, but conferencing and sharing over Google+ could work. It’s already been successful for Google Docs.
At present Google+ is being tested by a small focus group, but Google claim this is going well and the full worldwide version will be launching shortly. I don’t see it as a Facebook beater, but it may well be the first to give them a challenge.