First Look at the Google+ social network: The Top Secret Demo

June 28, 2011

One thing that’s clear about Google is that they’ve mastered the art of subterfuge.

At a time when leaks about product launches, acquisitions and potential hires are rife, Google resorted to extraordinary measures to ensure that word of its new social network, Google+, did not slip out ahead of Tuesday’s official announcement.

The company reached out to Reuters late on Friday about a special briefing related to some undisclosed YouTube news, even tasking a YouTube PR-man with a curious sartorial style to coordinate the meeting, to complete the red-herring.

So it was surprising to discover a grinning Vic Gundotra, Google’s head of social, and VP of Product Management Bradley Horowitz, in the meeting room at Google’s headquarters.

Clearly we weren’t here to talk about a new YouTube media partnership.

The pair quickly revealed what they had up their sleeve and proceeded to give a tour of a new social networking service that’s been one year in the making.

So what is Google+ like? And why would you want to invest the time and effort to create another social network if you’re already using Facebook and Twitter?

Google is betting that its approach to privacy and extensive controls over who you share information with on the network will set Google Plus apart.

The service revolves around a concept of “circles,” (presumably not the same circles that Dante visited). You can create as many circles as you like, for whatever categories you want: for example family, co-workers or biking friends. Above the circles are a slew of thumbnail images of friends and contacts which Google suggests you might want in your social network. To add a person to one of your groups, drag the name into a circle.

If you decide to remove someone from a circle, you simply drag their image out of the circle, at which point the image will explode into a cloud of smoke – one of several whimsical touches in Google+.

To use Google+ you need to create a Google profile. At the very minimum, Google requires that you use your real name and include a photo. Beyond that, you can furnish the profile with as much, or as little, detail about yourself as you want.

You can control how much of your profile is visible to other folks on the network: your name and occupation for some folks; relationship status for others.  Type a person’s name into a box, and you can see what your profile looks like through their eyes.

In a sense, Google+ combines the Facebook and Twitter models of social networking: You can have friends in your social network with whom you share information, and you can also simply follow certain people, say a movie critic who you don’ t know personally, a la Twitter.

Nearly all Google websites, such as its flagship search engine and the Google maps site, will have a special toolbar running across the top of the page.  The toolbar has an icon of your face alongside your name in the top left, to remind you that you are currently logged on to the Google+ network. Click on your name and you can quickly log off the network, or switch to incognito mode.

Google is also weaving video conferencing into social networking with Google+. You can let people in specific circles know that you’re available for a video conference (that you’re available to “hang out” in Google+ parlance) by clicking on a button. Up to ten people can join a video conference.

While social networking is all about real people sharing information, such as interesting news articles and videos, Google believes there’s room for its algorithmic muscle in the social world too. A feature called “Sparks” serves up Web content on various topics, say sports or fashion, which Google’s technology has determined are popular. You can subscribe to categories of interest, or create your own custom category, and you’ll receive links to the latest content in your news feed.

Google is also releasing mobile apps of Google+ for Android smartphones and iPhone, with special features like group messaging and cloud-based photo storage.

Google is referring to its new service as the Google+ Project, to make clear that’s what’s available now is only the first installment of several more features it says it has in the pipeline.

Despite a checkered history in social (see Google Wave, Google Buzz and to some extent Orkut), Google has not given up on trying to conquer the social networking market.

Right now the service is only available as a “field trial” to a limited number of people. Since social networking success depends on critical mass, it seems likely that Google will open the service up to more people sooner rather than later.

So in the coming months we could have a better indication as to whether Google has finally cracked the code for success in the social networking market.

(Screenshots from Google Works)


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I wonder if google should reconsider their plan and open up their social networking site to the unwashed masses. The fact that I’m excluded doesn’t make me like the product more, it makes me like the product less. I’m a much bigger fan of inclusion over exclusion.

Posted by justrmor | Report as abusive

How long till ad words line the right hand side?

Posted by atomjarvis | Report as abusive

I could like this new social network, but I wish you all would work with layouts and graphics like Myspace use to do. FB is so plain and boring and I think layouts brought alot of imagery and expression to the network.

Posted by Christinflorida | Report as abusive

“Clearly we weren’t here to talk about a new YouTube media partnership…”

Essentially, Google has failed with YouTube which has been ruined as a social community as a result of Google management’s obsessive legalism + dictatorial attitudes aimed at controlling users + effectively enslaving them to be sold off to advertisers en masse. The same will happen again with social networking but from the very outset…. because Google has no soul + is totally absorbed with its quarterly financial reporting as a for-profit private corporation.

Time to get a new CEO, guys, uhh!

Posted by DDChalmers | Report as abusive

Allowing you to import friends list from other social networking site will be cool…facebook for starters:) Or else why would I want to rebuild my network from scratch. On another note, the group video conferencing capability looks cool!

Posted by VenkatK | Report as abusive

i’m loving the concept of circles. facebook is rtying hard but still there are bugs, while the concept of circles is very simple, elegent, we will share our thoughts only with circles we want to share!
much excited! waiting for G+ people to email me! :P

Posted by meFarhan | Report as abusive

Another huge corporation taking more of your details with your full consent :) Scary stuff. I left Facebook in favour of at the end of last year – privacy and security are their major plus points… along with all the usual social networking tools. Oh yes, and they’re owned by a small company, not a massive advertising machine. Open your eyes!!

Posted by FrankieTee | Report as abusive

Speechless …… Kudos to Google+

Posted by Onero | Report as abusive

The article states that to join Google+, you need a Google Profile. Be aware that Google Profiles recently showed VERY easy to harvest/copy by the millions (as opposed to LinkedIn and Facebook which are at least somewhat harder to mass-harvest): -google-allows-mass-downloading.html google_profiles_database_dump/

In their response, Google does not seem to bother about this ‘harvestability’. IMHO, this makes Google Profiles a more attractive target than e.g. LinkedIn/Facebook/etc. for those of ill-intent who are looking for large amounts of personal data – whether for marketing or finding targets for social-engineering. The fact that people decide to make public some information about themselves does NOT mean they actually understand the risk (or lack thereof) associated with that. E.g. many people inadvertently disclose the answer to their secret password-recovery questions on various sites they use.

My 2cts.

Posted by mrkoot | Report as abusive

Liked concept of Video conferencing…
Excellent job… Waiting for Google+ :)

Posted by Shrikrishnap | Report as abusive

there are so many things to know about the G+ Network. more and more interesting tips and tricks at:

thanks everyone. it’s been a social networking week.

Posted by GooglePlus | Report as abusive

Looking forward to google +, it should be interesting to see how more & more creativity will unfold when the social networking sites compete with each other… conferencing should be very intersting addon.

Posted by Jaishree | Report as abusive

Promoting google+ votes is becoming a very hot business. Using these types of services could have negative or positive affects on SEO.
We just have to see how google treats them. Another place to buy google plus votes is
Will be interesting to see how this evolves over the next few months.

Posted by seomaster440 | Report as abusive