Can Google conquer Facebook with Google+?

For a potentially game changing project, it almost crept under the radar but Google today launched Google+ which may rival social networking giant Facebook. A bit late to jump on that band wagon you might say? Many said the same about Google entering the browser wars with Google Chrome and look at the huge success that has had.

However, Google’s first attempt at social networking was Google Buzz and that didn’t work out quite so well. Undeterred, since then Google have put social networking at their top of their agenda with chief and co-founder Larry Page sending out a memo earlier this year that future bonuses will be linked to the success of Google’s social networking success. So will Google+ succeed where Buzz badly failed? Here’s what you can expect to see:

Codenamed “Emerald Sea”, the development of Google+ has understandably been kept very low key after the ill-fated Google Buzz not only failed to get off the ground but eventually had to settle with the US Federal Trade Commission for breaking privacy laws. Instead, Google have simply opted to announce the release of Google+ on their blog. Gmail users might have also noticed when they logged-on today, a new Contact organizing feature – it’s all part of the engine driving Google+ known as Circles.

Google may not have the 500 million+ members that Facebook now has but it has an enormous number of Google Account holders that will gradually be drawn into this circle and interlinked thanks to Google+.

It’s clear from Google’s somewhat cheesy promotional video for Google+ that their new project is meant to be more of a “love-in” than Facebook which in comparison, tends to “commodify” friendships into contacts and that’s it. Basically, Google+ is supposed to be more “cuddly” and enable you to “Hang Out” in video calls with friends, “Huddle” and generally be closer to the ones you love and care about. It seems to be pitched as a more “humane” and of course, “social” alternative to Facebook in other words. In their own words, Google say:

The problem is that today’s online services turn friendship into fast food—wrapping everyone in “friend” paper—and sharing really suffers.

They claim that Circle’s is “less sloppy, scary and insensitive” with a thinly veiled critique of Facebook:

  • It’s sloppy. We only want to connect with certain people at certain times, but online we hear from everyone all the time.
  • It’s insensitive. We all define “friend” and “family” differently—in our own way, on our own terms—but we lose this nuance online.
  • It’s scary. Every online conversation (with over 100 “friends”) is a public performance, so we often share less because of stage fright.

Google+ is divided into:

Sparks: A content driven chat forum that aims to “spark” off conversations between members.

Hangouts: A place – like a pub or bar – where you can hang-out and chat with friends.

Mobile: Integration with mobile devices so your friends and can see where you are when, and comment on it as well as allow you to upload photos of what you’re doing.

Huddle: Instead of texting friends separately to meet-up, Huddle allows you to enter into group chats to arrange a place to meet, take a drink etc. When you get there, presumably you then use Hangout to chat to each other (only joking).

Not convinced? I’m not sure I am either but I’m not stupid enough to rule-out Google conquering the social networking world with something so handy and useful that no one can believe it wasn’t invented earlier. However, as with Wave, I can’t help but think Google have once again got a bit too fancy for their own boots with Google+. Google have always excelled at keeping things simple and like Google Wave, Google+ already sounds a bit too convoluted.

It’s therefore hard to see Google convincing millions of highly satisfied Facebook users to go to the hassle of switching to a product like Google+ which ultimately, they’ll have to do if they want to dominate the social networking arena as Larry Page hopes. 500 million people are now settled on Facebook, most of them have spent years building up contacts, young and old are familiar with how it works and most importantly, they’re happy with how it works – most of the time at least. When Google entered the browser wars with Chrome, they were entering into a market where users had long ago lost their patience with Internet Explorer and even some Firefox users were starting to look around. The other options were just too geeky and awkward to use and Google did what they do best when no one else had – invent a browser that’s really simple, really fast and really easy to use.

One thing seems certain, if Google+ goes a similar way as Buzz, it seems Google’s social networking dreams will have be radically rethought if not shelved for a very long time.

Sign-up here for an invite to test Google+.

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