Google is back with yet another attempt at social networking. Remember Orkut, Google Wave and Google Buzz? Me neither.
The search engine giant clearly has high hopes for Google+. Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President of Engineering, certainly seems to think they’re onto a winner, but will it really be enough to trouble Zuckerberg & Co?
Just a few years ago, Bebo was all the rage. It was a great way to catch up with old school friends, and infinitely more appealing than the straight-laced Friends Reunited. Customisable profiles were fun for a while too; in that sense, it was a bit like the Android of the social networking world.
But the novelty soon wore off and the site did little to evolve. Er, other than open the gates to a plethora of crappy apps. Meanwhile, everyone was talking about this new social networking thingy called “Facebook”.
With its uniform profile pages and (mostly) intuitive interface, Facebook is very much the iOS of social networking. One of the main draws was/is the ability to comment on people’s status updates. Social networking became more social as a result, and Bebo’s one-to-one commenting suddenly seemed woefully inadequate.
Twitter has proven that there’s room enough for two social networking behemoths to co-exist in space year 2011AD, but that’s because it’s a very different beast. Lots of people use both. Google+, on the other hand, appears to be selling itself as a Facebook alternative.
Incidentally, I’m not entirely sure I “get” Twitter. It seems like a never-ending stream of inane posts from celebs, rather than a place people go to converse. I guess it’s more about sharing content and following sites/people. Or something. Anyway, it seems to be doing all right.
Oh, I should probably throw in a nod to the ailing Myspace at this point too. It’s still a decent place for bands to set up shop, but the abundance of (largely rubbish) content makes it nigh on impossible to get noticed. It was sold for $580 million in 2005, but went for just $35 million recently; how depressing is that?
Anyway, on to this new Google+ thing. Google is excitedly telling anyone who’ll listen about Circles, the feature that allows you to set up groups of contacts and share information with specific sets of friends, rather than the blanket tell-everyone approach of rival sites.
Google's Circles blurb explains: "You share different things with different people. So sharing the right stuff with the right people shouldn't be a hassle. Circles makes it easy to put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another, and your boss in a circle by himself - just like real life." ("LOL")
But waitaminute; Facebook has a little-known and incredibly similar feature called Groups. Have a gander to the left of your news feed and you’ll see the option to Create Group. The default Privacy option, Closed, means: “Anyone can see the group and who’s in it. Only members can see posts.” Sound familiar?
So Google+ is relying largely on shouting about a feature that already exists within Facebook. In the unlikely event that Circles does prove enough to convince the Facebook faithful to abandon ship, all it’d take from Team Zuckerberg is to highlight their version of Circles with a little pop-up when people sign in, and suddenly Google+ don’t look so hot no more.
Another of Google+’s features, Hangouts, hopes to revolutionise the way people interact online. Google notes that people don’t really “hang out” as such on the cyberweb, and reckons we’ll all suddenly embrace the concept of video conferencing. No thanks, dudes.
The third major feature is Sparks, essentially a content feed. Meh. Personally, I’m very set in my ways; I have my favourite sites; I know exactly where my news and gaming and tech goodness is coming from, and I don’t much like the idea of being spoon-fed.
So, to answer the question I posed in the title, Google+ is not – and will never be – the new Facebook. People might be losing interest in Zuckerberg’s baby, but Google+ offers little reason to suddenly jump ship and start from scratch.
In a year’s time when people ask: “Remember Google+?” the answer will invariably be: “Google what?” Back to the drawing board, Googs.