Google plus! Facebook minus?

Google Plus is the new social network from Google. This post looks into the real reasons it has come about, and outlines exactly what it does – analysing some of it’s main features and comparing them to existing social networks.

Why has it come about?

Vic Gundotra, Google’s engineering boss believes “online sharing is broken. And even awkward… We think connecting with other people is a basic human need. We do it all the time in real life, but our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets – or into being completely public… Real life sharing is nuanced and rich. It has been hard to get that into software.”

Vic’s statement could be genuine, it is true that sharing through Facebook or Twitter means the user can either be completely public or incredibly private. However, there may be a deeper reason for Vic’s concern. Google started off as a simple ‘search engine’ but has grown into one of the Web’s superpowers…

Google Plus is an attempt at the devaluation of Facebook. It is worth noting though, that this is third time lucky for Google to produce a ‘social’ application that hits it off in the public domain, in the past: Google Buzz and Google Wave have both failed spectacularly.

What exactly does it do?

Well, it is early doors. All online applications develop or should develop as time passes by and as new applications and technologies are released. Currently, I like to think of Google Plus as a combination of tools (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Tumblr and WhatsApp) – popular tools used on the Web today.

Through Circles users can group people they are following. Users can follow strangers or industry heavy-weights (like on Twitter) or users can follow friends or work colleagues. Using Circles, users can then share posts with specific Circles – this is handy if you want to share family pictures with family or a work party with your colleagues.

Through Hangouts users can video call other users (like on Skype). Users can ‘hangout’ with more than one user, creating a kind of video conference call. This is cool, and would be useful for business, however with a feature name like ‘hangouts’, I can’t see businesses using this to communicate with external bodies or clients as the feature name has an unprofessional ring to it.

The biggest feature is Sparks - Here users can search for external content within the Google Plus application itself. This is good in its own right. However, Google have incorporated this into their search results… For example if someone you are following shares a particular link, your search results will make you aware of this. This could well effect the way sites are ranked within Google’s search criteria. Sites with more shares may appear higher than others. This would mean that search rankings would be even more diverse and varied than they are in their current state.

Like Facebook, users can Share posts – However, with Google Plus you can effectively re-share other user’s posts. This reminds me of re-blogging posts on Tumblr, or Re-tweeting on Twitter.

Huddle - This is currently, purely developed for Mobile – Here users can group chat, just like on WhatsApp, rather than having separate text conversations.

Why would people drop Facebook?

Personally, I much prefer sharing my content with selected Circles. A lot of the time I refrain from posting on Facebook because I don’t want everyone to see my post. I personally believe that Vic and Google have addressed ‘broken online sharing’. The Google Plus sharing experience is richer, mainly through Circles - by selecting who to share content with, but also through Hangouts where communication is more ‘real-life’.

What does this mean for business?

On Facebook, a user has a collection of liked pages or brands in their personal about section. Unlike Facebook, Google Plus does not hold special pages or groups for businesses (i.e. Coca Cola). However, currently there is nothing stopping a brand or business setup a Google Plus account looking to address their fans.

A big point to make – Information Liberation

Currently, Google Plus asks you if you would like the organisation to personalise adverts using your data. However Facebook doesn’t do this, it sells your information to personalise those adverts you see on the right hand side of your page. Just so you know, in 2010 Facebook’s ad revenue hit $1.86 billion – (Mashable).

Google are by no means angelic when it comes to data. In the past they have committed some serious acts, including a case where Google stole data from unprotected networks in the UK: read more on that here. Despite this, I prefer that Google asks the user if they can personalise adverts with data – unlike Facebook.

To sum up

Personally, I think Google Plus is looking to be far more promising than Facebook, where technically, it’s levels of sharing and new tools far out shine Facebook’s greatest features. However, will everyday ‘normal’ people (people who are not as web geeky as me) appreciate it, perhaps they don’t want to move to an empty network? Facebook, has a huge user base – that is what makes it successful – Google needs to steal those users if it is to really hit off.

Photo credit: Flickr user dreamsjung