Friday, July 8, 2011

TECH: Google+. Google's third attempt to create a social network

Google Inc. has presented his third social network – Google+. Two other social networks – Orkut and Buzz - didn’t prove to be as popular in the past, one of which – Buzz – had to be shut down the same year of its launch.
Google+ offers Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and Huddle – the functions that make up the new social network, which were first tested on a “selected few”, with the others waiting to be invited to join (how silly, that is.) And we are still waiting. Even the invites were shut off. So, when it comes to providing you with my personal review of the product, I can only trust the experts I trust…and my friends.

Circles are…
… groups of friends a user has divided up into categories like Friends, Family, or Co-Workers. Circle makes clusters of friends with whom you'd want to share the same kinds of information.

The Interface…
…ooks suspiciously familiar to the Facebook one : there’s the stream (News Feed), the “Share what’s new…” status bar , “What’s on your mind?” and a profile—offering a Facebook-like format complete with a profile picture in the upper left hand corner of the page.


Personal data…
Like the social network we've all come to know and love/hate, Google+ lets you control which of your friends sees which of your posts. Like Facebook, it can keep your personal data locked down and secure — if you opt into that.


Google+'s intuitive sharing design makes sense as soon as you start typing a post into Streams. A slim box flips open, ready for you to pick the Circles or people you want to show that info to. (Be warned — like Facebook, the default here is set to "Public," and it's up to you to keep or change that.)




I’ve also turned to some of my favorite tech-specialized sites – like TechCrunch and Mashable – whose members tried and tested it first for a few days, played around with it and then reported back to the rest of us, less ‘privileged’. Here is what they found:

TechCrunch: “While it’s still far from clear what the actual impact of G+ will be on the Internet at large, it’s pretty clear already that it’s something Facebook is going to have to take seriously. And they are. Despite Mark Zuckerberg downplaying it, Facebook did just launch a video chat feature a week after Google did in G+. And last summer, Facebook rushed to get the new Groups done in time to beat Circles to the same punch”.
“But where things are going to be really interesting is on the social sharing front” – says MG Siegler, TechCrunch – “Facebook has long been in the lead here — and is proud of it. But after just a week, it sure seems like Google+ is seeing some impressive numbers as well (with only a fraction of Google users using it). And a small change Google quietly made yesterday shows just how seriously they’re taking this.”

Mashable: “Google+ is a bold and dramatic attempt at social. It is solid”. But they are “not going to call it a Facebook killer or a game-changer”.

“The last Google product”, - says Ben Parr – “I said that about was the ill-fated Google Buzz. Perhaps that’s why Google’s rolling this out slowly via invites, the same style Gmail used to release itself to the world. If Google can persuade users to come back every day, it has a winner. But the company will have to do even more to provide a truly compelling alternative to Facebook. At the moment, Google+ cannot compete with the king of social, but Google doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to take on Mark Zuckerberg’s giant quite yet”.

To see what tech-aware guys say, here are a few examples: Ben Parr @Mashable: here someone brilliant (and funny, and politically-INcorrect) I’ve recently met at Fast Company’s “The 100 Most Creative People in Business”  and here is the review by Baratunde Thurston @Baratunde: here.

One question, though, still bothers me: how safe is one’s personal data on Google+? As we recall, Facebook has been having issues with the privacy and security. Knowing Google for its very active advertising operations, ad pulls and pushes, it’s very likely that they’ve already “imbedded” advertising capabilities onto the new social networks, so once it takes off, the users would be exposed to the ads. Or, at least, that’s just my guess – a very pessimistic one.

I’ve talked to a few social media, Internet and new technology experts to see what they think about Google+.

Igor Shoifot, the co-founder of Fotki.com “Google has been long looking to find his niche strategy. Buzz, Wave and the other initiatives were the milestone steps towards developing Google+. Then Google bought, hoping that their social network team of experts would help them to develop a competitive social network, but all the functions and features they’ve developed and incorporated in their social networks were nothing news.

However, the integration of Gmail, Docs, and Search! looks very promising, but I can’t say “WOW” to it yet. But I’m looking forward to what they’d come up with at the Google center where I know a lot of programmists and engineers who are all passionate about their work at Google”.

Baratunde Thurston, the Director of Digital at The Onion: “I'm definitely using Google+. I haven't been as heavy a user as I normally am with new services because I'm finishing my book writing in the next week, and I've found that using Google+ is highly negatively correlated with getting important things done.

I can't switch to it from Facebook, because only tech geeks are using it. I like diversity in my online life, and without my real friends, Google+ is just a cool experiment, but I think the service has great potential.

I'm looking forward to having another option in the social networking space because I think competition is lovely. These services need to compete for my attention. If I had children, I would make them compete with each other for my affection. It would make them better kids, and the winner would get my complete love. That's exactly what the Facebook vs. Google+ dynamic should be like”.

Alex Romanovich, Founder of Socia2B: “I, personally, don't think that Google+ will make a significant dent in Facebook 'Empire'. The initial review of Circles, Huddle, and other facilities get an A, however, the Facebook import function is lacking for now. I like Google products and will probably use Google+, however, it will take some time for adoption and Facebook is not going to sit on the sidelines either.

This is going to be similar to a Google versus Microsoft battle (Fb being Microsoft in this analogy) - Google Apps, for example made a significant mindshare dent with the new generation of 'open source' thrill-seekers and enthusiasts. Over time, I think Google+ will find its audience, but immediately it's more of a new shiny toy with a number of shortcomings and loose pieces, that need to be tighten up”.

Anjelika Petrochenko, General Manager of the largest Russian social network and blogging platform "Google+ is an interesting project, and I, as many thousands people out there, waiting for my invite to join it. At this point I’ve only seen the video-announcements and previous. As far as I can say – all of Google+ features look very attractive, convenient interface, mobile services. Obviously, by creating a new social network, based on contacts with the people you’ve already know in real life, Google is offering an alternative to Facebook.

I’m looking forward to seeing the battle between these two [Internet] giants. However, it’s hard to say if Google+ would become popular, because we still remember the failures of its previous social network projects – Wave and Buzz. That means, not all innovations from Google become successful. Moreover, Facebook’s users are very accustomed and fairthful to the site – all that’s needed at the moment already exists on Facebook (and just two days ago Facebook presented its new feature – Skype-like video chat). What more should Google+ do to attract to it.

Of course many ask me if Google+ would be popular in Russia and would compete with us – And I respond by saying that while in USA Google+ might be competing only with Facebook, in Russia it’d be also competing with Russian-based large social networks like VKontakte (InContact), Odnoklassniki (Classmates) – and they all are well established and have millions of users. Same goes with LiveJournal – we are not a social network alone, we are a blogging platform (Kind of like and in USA – Fab, Tech and Media), so, Google+ would have it tough to become popular in Russia”.

And Walter Mossberg, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD – and of my favorite into-personal-technology guides out there, had no comment for the new social network, because he has not yet tried it. (That made me think: whenever Mr. Mossberg is not tasting something before anyone else is – thaaaaat’s baaaaad news…)

I’ve also reached out to a few large search engines in Russia – and and they declined to comment as per their policy that they don’t comment on any other Internet projects.

And what do you think of Google+? Would it become as popular as Facebook? Would you switch to it from Facebook?


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