Google, which is undoubtedly the most popular website in the world seems to constantly be challenging the domination of the second-most popular website, Facebook, which is the world’s largest online social network that currently boasts 750 million users. For this reason, Google has been trying to create a social platform of it’s own to rival the social media giant, not just once, but now for the fifth time. First there was Orkut, which was launched one month before Facebook in January of 2004, followed by Jaiku, which was founded in February of 2006, followed next by Wave which was released in September 2009 and is no longer being developed as a stand alone product, followed next by Buzz which was launched in February of 2010. But Google has not given up and last month unveiled its Google+ program as the newest attempt to trump Facebook’s popularity.
No one really knows how many people are using Google+ as of this moment, but many estimate it to be in the range of tens of million of members. That is largely because Google+ is in a limited field trial mode and as such has not yet hit the mainstream.
In fact not everyone can join Google+ as of yet. In order to join, you must be invited by someone who is already a current member and even still that does not guarantee they will be able to sign up for the current version. Lucky for me, I was invited by my college-aged sister and so am able to get a first hand peak.
At first glance, Google+ looks to be a clone of the ever-popular Facebook. There is a Posts stream, much like the Facebook wall, where you can post your thoughts, news, videos, photos, links and so on and share them with your connections. Unlike Facebook, however, your friends cannot write on your profile. They do have the ability to communicate on things that you have posted, although you do have the ability to determine what each individual can see. There is an About tab much like the info tab on Facebook, Photos and Videos tabs like Facebook, a +1’s tab, which mimics the “Like” button on Facebook and a buzz tab.
But what sets Google+ apart from Facebook, and may be just what the doctor ordered in regards to finally being able to compete with the social media giant is what Google+ calls “Circles” which represents the different social circles of people within our lives. Similar to lists on Facebook, but with greater functionality, you have the ability to sort your friends into multiple different customizable “circles” (categories or groups) that represents the unique relationships you have with each of the people in your life. Google describes this as “Real-life sharing, rethought for the web.” Unlike Facebook, where everything you post is seen by every one of your “Friends,” Google+ feels that since you share different things with different people in real life, you should also have that ability online.
Google+ starts you off with 4 empty Circles they have titled as Friends, Acquaintances, Family and Following (For those you don’t know but want to follow you anyway). You can either keep these Circles as they are or rename them and add others to the list. They can either be teeny, tiny circles such as “grandparents” or great big Circles such as (for me anyway) “Family Tree.” It’s simple to add people to each circle. When you click on the Circles link on the top of your profile, a gallery of your friends will populate, you then simply drag and drop one or more of your friends into the different Circles you want them to be in. You can even put people into multiple Circles if you’d like.
Once you’ve created your Circles and designated whom to put in each, you then have the ability to specify exactly which Circles get to see what you share. No longer do your have to worry about surprise parties being read by the guest of honor, your business colleagues seeing your crazy cousin’s rants, or potential customers seeing what the results of your son’s karate test was. All of this goes away with Circles, along with the privacy issues that so often plague Facebook. Not to mention, you removes a lot of clutter by sparing those of your friends from seeing news that is obviously of no interest to them.
In addition to Circles, Google+ also offers additional features including Hangouts, Sparks, Photo Sharing and Instant Upload, Huddle, The +1 Button and Stream.
Hangouts, as Google calls it, is another feature that Google+ has incorporated into its social media platform. Much like Skype, with a downloaded plugin, a web cam and a microphone, Hangouts allows you to video chat with your friends with one major difference. With Hangouts you can video chat with up to 10 of your friends at the same time. This gives you the opportunity to bump into friends unexpectedly while you are out and about, only online. Hangouts can also be used if you have a group project to do, you are miles away from family and friends or you want to simply meet a group of friends for coffee but cannot get away.
Sparks gives Google+ members the capability to see news and stories about topics that are of interest to you. When you first go into sparks, you can either choose from the featured list of interests or search for other topics that interest you. Once you find that topics that interest you, you can add it as an interest. The topic will then show up in a list under “Sparks” on the left hand side of your profile.
Photo Sharing and Instant Upload
Google+ gives you several ways to upload and share your photos. You can create a new post from the stream or the Google+ bar, you can upload photos from your Google+ Photos home page or from the Photos tab on your Google profile and you can share photos directly from your mobile device. But what is especially nice is that you can instantly share photos and videos from your mobile device without having to plug in any cables connect your device to a computer. You may be thinking, well I can do that in Facebook. But what makes this feature different, more private and in my humble opinion better is the fact that the photos and videos you upload are sent to a private album on your Google+ profile under the “Photos from your phone” section that no one can see unless and until you specifically choose the people you share them with.
Texting is great, but not when you’re trying to get six different people to decide on the location of your best friend’s bridal shower. Huddle is an application you can download to your mobile device that turn all those different conversations into one simple group chat. This allows everyone to see what you have to say without having to text it to 6 different people at the same time. Those 6 people in turn can respond to the whole group at the same time as well.
The +1 Button
Similar to the “Like” button in Facebook, you can use the +1 publically display what you like, agree with or even recommend on the Internet. The +1 button can appear both on Google and on sites across the Internet in a variety of places. When you +1 something, whether on Google or on another site, the icon will turn blue and the item will appear on your profile under the +1’s tab. The good thing is that unlike the “Like” button, that when clicked shows up on your profile page for all of your “Friends” to see, when you click the +1 it is visible publically to others who are viewing the information you +1’d and you can control the visibility of the +1 tab on your profile. Again, if I +1 information on my political affiliation, I do not have to worry about clients, customers or potential employees seeing what I like unless they are looking at the same thing.
Again, much like the wall of a user on Facebook, the Stream is where all of the information you share with others or that others share with you is centralized. The difference however is that what ever you post is seen in the streams of only those people you designate to see each post. Meaning, if I want to post how much I love my husband, I don’t have to worry about my newest client, or his newest client for that matter, seeing it.
So the question now is, will Google+ last and if so will it be able to compete with Facebook? Only time will tell, but I am interested in finding out. Thanks to my little sister, I can explore Google+ first hand. Hopefully you too will get an invitation to try it out as well.