7 min read
Last week Google launched their long awaited social network, Google+ and while it is currently in closed beta, I have been lucky to get an invite and have been using it for the last 5 days. View my profile to see what I've been up to.
What is Google+ and can it give facebook a run for it's money?
According to Google:
The Google+ project makes sharing on the web feel like sharing in real life.
But will that get them the critical mass that so many of their previous social apps failed to get? Google's executives have been quick to deny the companies social ambitions and have instead stated that google+ will only improve the user experience within the google ecosystem and that this product is about understanding social, location and other signals so google can enhance its core search platform. They can say what they want, but to me this product poses a real threat to twitter and not to facebook.
So what can you do on google+?
When you first join you are asked to add your gmail contacts into circles. Don't worry, you only need to add the people you expect to interact with on a social network. At this time it is unlikely that any of your friends will be able to join, but do put them into circles now while you remember. Circles enable you to separate out your private life from your public life, therefore allowing you to send status updates to only certain groups of people. Watch the video below to see how useful circles are.
The Google+ project: Explore Circles
The ultimate status update?
I have been known to exaggerate at times, but the status update in google+ is more useful than twitter as you are not restricted to 140 characters and you can include all of your media within google+, therefore you are not relying on third party media hosts such as yfrog or twitpic. However, you can do this in facebook, so it's not the ultimate platform for updating your status. From an ease of use perspective, it is very easy to post an update, control how visible that update is and you can edit your update. Yes, unlike twitter and facebook, should you make a typo you can just edit that post. Accidentally posted your exact location? No bother, just delete the location from your post. Simple.
One of the many things I do on twitter is search for specific subjects e.g. I'll search the hash tag android to see what people are saying. On google+ google are introducing Sparks, which allows you to search a specific subject and pin it to your sparks area. This allows you to check in regularly to see the latest information. This is no different than using a saved search on twitter, except that it looks a lot better and seems to be more user friendly. If something really interesting comes up I can share that with my android buddies or to my wider social circle. This you would struggle to do on twitter.
Huddle is clearly aimed at iMessages (Apples soon to be released iOS messaging app) and allows you to a send instant messages to multiple recipients. It also features its own separate android app which is a sinister way of threatening all those other group messaging apps such as ping chat.
Group video chat
The killer feature for me is hangout which enables you to hold a group video chat. If I want to have a video chat with my family who live all over the place, now we can have one conversation instead of multiple conversations. We could say we'll hangout on a Sunday afternoon and just chat to each other as each turns up. What I like about this approach is the lack of pressure to be somewhere or answer the phone.
There are other nice features such as the integration with gmail where you get notified to your google+ updates, the seemingly free photo storage with picasa and the (rather scary) instant uploads from your mobile of your recent photos (can be turned off) to name a few.
So who should be scared?
I don't think facebook has anything to be worried about, they are just so big, with many active daily users who really engage with the site. They have a business model that is making them serious cash and they are growing revenues year on year. If anything, google+ will inspire facebook to push out new features. The potential loser in this is twitter, a company that is not turning a profit and has much venture capital invested in it. Those guys will want their pay out soon! The reason twitter has been so successful is is limitations, but twitter seems to be moving away from the basic 140 characters and let's be honest, would you as a third party twitter app developer be confidant that they will keep those APIs open?
Gmail has 200 million active monthly users and if google can persuade those to switch their social profile to google+ then they will have serious traction. There are far more google accounts, so the potential is there if google can sell this social network to the masses.
What can we expect in the future?
Google has already said that they will release APIs, so third party apps and the ability to post to several social networks will happen soon enough.
Native apps on the iPhone and iPad should be with us within days depending on Apple's app store policy.
The uptake to the service will be slow! Remember how long you will have been on facebook and twitter. I have been on facebook for 5+ years and twitter for at least 4 years. If google+ can stay around, let's judge how successful it is in a couple of years.
Businesses can expect to tie in their google profiles and place names into google+ so that they can offer a better customer service experience. Imagine using your mobile to search for a local business, check out their profile, ask them a question on google+ (any availability for a table at lunchtime?) they can then respond directly to you. Even better would be to update their status with offers and lunch menus etc.
Marketers will love this site. I have no doubt that google ads will creep in eventually and if facebook is anything to go by, marketers will have access to all sorts of profile data. Therefore Adsense will become much more targeted. Let's remember that while search might be google's best product, they are for the most part an advertising company and that's how they make their money.
Google apps customers need this product fast. Huddle and hangout would be really powerful within the workplace.
Is this going to be my main social network? Probably, but only if I can get my family to use it. I find google+ to be more engaging than twitter and much more valuable than facebook, but it's early days and the noise ratio is quite low.