Google is challenging Facebook domination by unveiling a new project called Google+ that it says will try to make online sharing more like real life.
More than a year in the works, Google+ lets users share things with smaller groups of people through “circles”. This means only university friends, workmates, or families — but not necessarily all at once — would be able to see photos, links or updates.
Another feature called “sparks” aims to make it easier to find online content you care about, whether fishing or recipes. That can then be shared with friends who might be interested in it. In an online video, Google calls it “nerding out” and exploring a subject together.
Early reviews also suggest that the “hangout” and “huddle” elements of Google+, which enable video and mobile chat, could be aimed at challenging Skype, which was recently bought by Microsoft for $8.5-billion.
“Google+ should give Blekko, Skype and a gaggle of group messaging companies a pause,” said Om Malik, who has had an early view of the project.
Lou Kerner, a social media analyst for Wedbush, believes Facebook has already won the competition to become the world’s global social network. But he said: “I don’t think they’re seeing this as a direct competitor to Facebook.”
Google+ has limited access to the service to selected users to begin with. That appears to be a reaction to the calamitous launch of its Google Buzz service in February 2010, when it was made available immediately to the 75-million users of Google Mail, leading to complaints about privacy invasion, because it let everyone who had emailed a person see all the others as part of their Buzz contacts.
This time Google is being more careful. It has not indicated how quickly it will roll out the service globally.
“We think people communicate in very rich ways,” said Vic Gundotra, senior vice-president of engineering at Google. “The online tools we have to choose from give us very rigid services.”
Twitter and Facebook make selective sharing within small groups difficult, Gundotra argues. “If you tweet or like a link, then everyone who follows or is a friend sees it.”
In a blog accompanying the launch Gundotra says, “the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools. In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.”
Facebook has its own “groups” feature, but it’s not clear how many people use it. Facebook does not offer statistics on it. – guardian.co.uk