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Google+, The New Social Network?

Thu, Jul 21st 2011 10:15 am

When Google launched the Google+ (G+) project June 28, 2011, many internet users undoubtedly found themselves wondering "what is Google+ and how did it come out of nowhere to suddenly become a major competitor of Facebook?" If that was (or still is) you, don't worry - you're not alone. Even with the onslaught of media coverage surrounding the new social network, many users worldwide are still confused as to what the point of Google+ is, and why they should bother to give it a chance.

Touted as "real life sharing, rethought for the web," by Google, the G+ project is a social sharing platform (still in beta testing) that aims to bring the richness of real-life sharing to software. In other words, Google wants to make sharing online more similar to how we share information with our friends, families, and co-workers in real life. Why? Because in real life, you share different things with different people.

How Does It Work?
Like Facebook before it, Google+ requires users to learn some new lingo: Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Instant Uploads and Huddles, for starters.

Circles: Google's solution to the traditional "one size fits all," sharing of information on social networks. Circles allow you to organize your online connections as you do in real-life.  Create different circles and then fill them with your family, co-workers, friends and even your boss. Once you're ready to share, you choose what circles you would like to be able to view that message and post. That's basically it. However, while circles are designed to help you control who receives the information you share online, there is little you can do about what those people do with that information once they have it - so share wisely.

Sparks: Because Google is first and foremost a search engine, they have developed a built-in search function that makes it easier for you to search for interesting items to share. It's kind of like an RSS feed based on keywords of your choice.

Hangouts: The chat room of the future? Possibly. Create a hangout, invite your circles, and hangout via live video stream.

Instant upload: Exactly what it sounds like. This feature enables photos taken on your phone to automatically upload to your G+ account. As Google puts it, "you don't even have to say 'cheese'."

Huddles: The text message version of hangouts, Huddles let you form a multiple person chat via text, eliminating all the back-and-forth when trying to get a group together or make plans.

Note: As far as mobile devices are concerned, the native Google+ app for is available for Android 2.1 and iPhones operating on iOS 4. Alternately, the Google+ Mobile web app is available by going to google.com/+ on your mobile web browser on an Android (1.5+) or Apple (iOS 3+) device, with the basic Google+ Mobile application available for Blackberry (6.0+), Nokia/Symbian and Windows Mobile phones.

How does it compare to Facebook?

Facebook has a head start with 750 million active users, but Google has millions of customers already using their services so it could make a significant impact on the social media market with its full launch (remember, G+ is still in beta). Bill Gross, Founder and CEO of Technology Incubator Idealab, thinks that Google+ will be the fastest growing social network ever, stating "I predict that Google+ will go from 0 to 100,000,000 users faster than any other service in history." To date, just three weeks after field trials launched, there are already an estimated 18 million registered G+ users utilizing the service.

The numbers game aside, there have been heated debates popping up all over the blogosphere regarding Circles and the overall usability of Google+. Some feel that Circles are intuitive and far superior than anything Facebook has to offer (for the record, Facebook does allow you to organize your friends and restrict sharing as well - you can adjust this in your privacy settings), while others find them to be a hassle. There has also been some discussion regarding the asymmetric sharing model of Circles, meaning that sharing doesn't have to be two-way. Someone can choose to share with you, without you sharing with them.

Where G+ does seem to have the advantage over Facebook is the seamless integration with Google's existing services like mail, docs, calendars, etc.  While signed into your Google account, a Google+ tab is ever present in the navigation bar at the top of your screen.  Facebook users are forced to leave their Google page, open a new website, and sign into their Facebook profile. Google has also integrated their +1 button into the G+ interface, which acts similarly to Facebook's "like" option.

Google+ is also slated to roll out a business platform before the end of the year.

How to Join

Because G+ is still in field trials (beta testing), access to the social platform is invite-only. That means, for the time being, you need to find a friend, family member or co-worker with invites if you want to check it out. Once you have an invite, you can access G+ directly from your regular Google account (yes, you need to have a Google account) and start setting up and sharing with your Circles.

Will Google+ fulfill Bill Gross' predictions of 100,000,000 users? Only time will tell. But it seems like after several misguided attempts with Google Wave and Google Buzz, the internet giant might finally be on the right track.