The Google+ Social Network: Is it a Facebook Competitor?

Google’s social network is finally here, sort of. You probably won’t be able to access it for a week or two – it’s in a ‘limited field trial’ – invite only (oddly Google hasn’t plastered ‘beta’ across this one – maybe they’ve finally decided to stop using the beta tag?). There’s now simply a message saying they’ve ‘temporarily exceeded capacity’.

As with the Gmail launch in 2004, Google has invited a select band of users to participate with the hope of ironing out any remaining niggles. Their previous two social tools, Wave and Buzz, both failed to ignite the imagination of the masses. In fact Google Buzz eventually resulted in a class action lawsuit after major security issues plagued it’s short and traumatic life.

What is it Google+? Should it be Google+, Google + or Google Plus?

It’s official name is Google+

It’s a social network site which Google hopes will ‘fix’ online sharing. Google thinks that sharing online is broken and the new features in Google+ are designed to make sharing less scary, less sloppy and less intensive. We’ll come onto those in a minute.

It’s a strange name considering that the + symbol is used as a search operator in Google Search so entering ‘google +’ into the search box is equivalent to just entering ‘google’ – the space and plus sign are essentially ignored. But entering ‘google+’ without the space does bring up the Google+ page and related content. Searching for ‘google plus’ gives similar results to ‘google+’ at the minute. As many Web users are likely to type ‘google +’ into the search box it seems that Google might have caused itself some unnecessary problems already – again. Anyway, onto the features…

The main features of Google+

The Google+ project has five main features, some which users of Facebook and other social sites will be familiar with, others which are genuinely innovative and may be the key to mass adoption.


Google+ Circles



Google+ Circles

This is the most exciting and innovatove element in the Google+ project in my opinion, Circles lets you classify your online ‘relationships’ into groups, or ‘Circles’ as Google calls them.

This way you’ll be able to share a status update, image or video with just work colleagues, relatives or school friends – rather than hitting everyone at once, ala Facebook. This looks like a feature that might draw people in specifically to try it, and could potentially be the ‘killer’ element of Google+. Take a look at the video below as Jed introduces Google+ Circles.


Google+ Sparks



Google+ Sparks

Sparks lets you search for topics you’re interested in and will return content (videos, blog posts, articles, etc) for you to peruse. Sparks will suggest topics that are popular currently, but  also lets you specify what ‘sparks’ you want to see as well. You can save ‘sparks’ too so you’re able to delve into them again at a later date. I suppose this could be described as a slick RSS feed or shiny version of Google Alerts? Of course, once you’ve told Google what you like, it’s easy to share a cool spark with your friends using Google+. Cue another video from Google, James explains Google+ Sparks.


Google+ Hangouts



Google+ Hangouts

Not to sound too dismissive but ‘Hangouts’ does sound mainly like a chatroom – with webcams. You let your friends know you’re available to ‘hang out’ and they can join you for live webchats. You can invite more than one friend at a time and everyone can chat. Might end up being a cheap and cheerful way to video conference for small businesses? Might just be webcam chaos ;) Amee introduces Google Hangouts below.


Google+ Instant Upload



Google+ Instant Upload

This one sounds a little scary but Google assures us it’s fun, and quite useful. Take a photo on your phone and it’ll be automatically uploaded to a private album in your Google+ account. No more transferring photos using a cable or messing about emailing them to yourself. Sounds good, but the auto upload element will no doubt put some people off. Does the same with videos too. Again,  Google+ makes it really easy to share these auto uploaded photos and videos with your friends. Jon explains how Google+ Instant Upload works and why they think it’s great.


Google+ Huddle



Google+ Huddle

Huddle is designed to make those conversations between groups of friends much easier. You can start a chat with a Google+ Circle of friends and each reply appears inline, much like text messages on the iPhone (although this is between multiple contacts). Not the most exciting of the Google+ elements but still something that could quite easily become pretty useful. Miranda shows us around Google+ Huddle below.

Exploring Google+ so far…

So you don’t have a Google+ invite? Don’t despair, you can still have a play around with the cool HTML5 demo (middel link below) and check out the additional info Google’s provided so far.

Google+ and SEO (and finally the Google+1 button makes sense)

Will Google+ have any affect on SEO or the digital marketing world? Well it’s likely to encourage more sharing between friends which can only be a good thing, seeing your links fly around Facebook, Twitter and now Google+ will no doubt be the aim of any good social or search marketer.

We’re assuming that the Google+1 button will finally show it’s teeth as Google+ accounts come online. Finally people will have a reason to click that little button :) Cue sites owners rushing to include it on their sites now they see the point of it.

We’ll have to wait and see if it throws up any additional challenges (or opportunities) in the coming months.

Is Google+ a viable Facebook alternative?

Lets’ answer the question set by the title of this post – is Google+ a Facebook killer? Will it persuade millions of users to abandon the safety of the big blue? It’s hard to say definitively until we’ve had a good play with it (that may still be a few weeks off), but from what we’ve seen so far on the Web it’s had a real mixed bag of reviews.

I think it’ll take time for people to get to grips with everything and to appreciate which are the quality elements of the system. But once they do, I think folk who already use the myriad Google products available will at least give adoption a go. Take a look below for reviews, news and opinions from other blogs and new sources.

Google+ news elsewhere on the Web

Drop into the comments if you have opinions or anything else to add. Oh and please don’t ask for a Google+ invite in the comments, we don’t have any – and if we did we’d be selling them on eBay for one hundred billion dollars ;)


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