Google Inc. is preparing to make another attempt to challenge Facebook’s position atop the social networking heap. Social networking is currently the most popular and profitable Internet segment. Google’s project is name Google+, and the goal is to turn online life into an experience closer to that of real life.
“We think people communicate in very rich ways,” Vic Gundotra, Google’s Senior VP of Engineering, said Tuesday. “The online tools we have to choose from give us very rigid services.”
Other social networking tools make selective sharing within small groups difficult. They don’t allow for the nuances that people are used to in offline communication and because they call so many acquaintances “friends,” said Gundotra in a blog post announcing the service.
Presently, social networks make sharing certain and selective information among small groupings difficult. The tools do not allow users to choose the way they share, or how much they share, with certain groups. For example, on Facebook, users have a hard time limiting their status changes and updates to smaller groups—perhaps they don’t want their personal lives completely exposed to their co-workers or casual acquaintances. Certain photos and comments, the kind that often get lampooned on social network spoofing sites like Failbook, are perhaps not appropriate for all comers. Unfortunately, in an environment where anyone from a family member to a complete stranger who happens to play the same online games can be called a “friend,” selective sharing isn’t easy.
Facebook does have a “group” function, but it is not very user-friendly, many Facebook devotees report. Accurate statistics on how many people actually use the group function this way are not available.
Gundotra’s assessment of current online tool offerings are obviously directed at Facebook, which has become virtually inseparable from the public’s perception of a social network in the seven years it has been around. Many smaller networks have failed to achieve success in Facebook’s shadow.
Facebook responded with a canned statement, saying in part, “we’re in the early days of making the web more social, and there are opportunities for innovation everywhere.”
Google has been trying to enter the social networking market for several years, and has had very limited success to report for their efforts. Google Buzz was a major blunder: the attempted social network was actually linked to Google’s Gmail product, and ended up making email profile information public. Google must now comply with an independent auditing of its privacy controls every two years for the next twenty years, according to their settlement with the FTC.
Google+ has been in development for over a year. This new social networking tool allows users to share with small groupings through “circles,” a feature that will presumably be personalized by the user to include such circles as “school friends” or “co-workers”, etc. This will allow users to limit the type and scope of who does and doesn’t receive or can see their updates and postings.
“Sparks” is another feature that should make locating content online that users are interested in easier and faster. This information can then be shared among friends who might be interested in it. Google refers to the concept as “nerding out” and exploring a particular subject together with those like-minded friends.
“Huddle” is a group messaging tool that allows users to upload their photos from their mobile devices instantly. The files are then stored in a private album on remote servers, where they can be accessed and shared as the user sees fit.
Right now, Google+ is going through field trials, where users are invited to participate; the project isn’t available to the general public as yet, and Google hasn’t announced when it will go public.
This new venture by Google does have its detractors.
“People have their social circles on Facebook,” Debra Aho Williamson, who is a principal analyst with eMarket, a research firm, said. “Asking them to create another social circle is challenging.”
Google’s heavy reputation for being the biggest search engine is also somewhat “type-casting.”
“The whole idea of a Google social network…they’ve been throwing stuff against the wall for several years and so forth nothing has stuck.” Choosing to use Google to be social, Williamson adds, is akin to “going to Starbucks for the muffins. Or, for that matter, going to Facebook for search.”