Is Google+ a Facebook killer or another Google Wave?
Google has had a series of embarrassing flops when it comes to new products. Google Wave was too complicated and didn’t solve a problem anyone had. Google Buzz never caught on with enough people to become useful. Now, they’ve set their sights directly on Facebook with Google+ and after spending a little less than a day with it, I have to admit I am intrigued.
There are a couple of things that make Google+ compelling. The first is that despite the fact it’s still in limited beta, with many folks begging for invites from friends, it feels active and alive. When you log in, it appears like the early days of Facebook, before they piled on app after app and feature after feature.
Being the new thing is an advantage, because you can focus on the features that people really want. Google+ focuses on a feed of updates, similar to the Facebook Wall, and forces people to place their contacts into “Circles” which is similar to Facebook’s “Groups” that seems to be utilized only by a small audience.
Circles allow you to focus on the things a subset of your contacts are interested in, helping to separate the signal from the noise. This is the biggest problem with not only Facebook but with Twitter as well. Power users on Twitter use “Lists” and this makes the experience of Twitter much better, especially for people who depend on Twitter for information and news.
For those who use social media to consume news, there’s a Google+ feature called “Sparks” that allows you to track Google News sources for any keyword you want and the stream can be accessed within the same space you’re following friend updates.
The largest image hosting website today is Facebook, and with apps like Instagram trying to hone in on their turf, they’re keen to get into the mobile photo sharing game as well. What really kicked up Facebook’s image hosting was picture tagging. Where Facebook has started to fall apart is the presentation of the images, which is a bit wonky. Google+ doesn’t have critical mass with image tagging yet, but they’ve got the same functionality built in, along with a much sleeker, simpler way of presenting images in a nice neat grid format. For either Google or Facebook to remain fresh, though, they’ll need to come up with their own version of what Instagram has done to capture the photo sharing zeitgeist.
The final major feature is Hangout, which lets you have a spontaneous video chat with multiple people in any particular Circle. This is something unique that Facebook doesn’t currently offer and could likely be a big draw for teenagers to socialize with friends. It could potentially be a competitor to Skype and even to WebEx if they allowed screen sharing. Tie it to Google Docs and now you have a really powerful collaboration tool.
Another important component that Google is pushing in order to separate themselves from Facebook is their “data liberation” which allows you to pack up and take your data away from Google+ should you decide to leave the service. They even made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek video to tout it, as seen here:
Privacy has always been one of the pet peeves of Facebook, and how difficult they make it to leave and take your stuff with you. Google was wise to make this a major feature of Google+.
The true test of Google+, though, will be to see if it survives given all the other digital distractions already available. Will it be the shiny new tool that becomes a fast fading fad or will it draw us away from our existing social networks of Facebook and Twitter?