Like many large companies, Internet giant Google has insane amounts of resources that people like you and me can hardly fathom. With this in mind it’s truly surprising, and somewhat embarrassing, that the company has struggled so much to create a social networking service to compete with Facebook; a social network started by a college dropout. Believe me, Google has tried. Look at Google Wave and Google Buzz, for example. Both of these products promised to change the way we communicated and collaborated, and after having seemingly high potential both products have had less than successful results with end-users. Google Buzz became a target for privacy concerns which ultimately lead to a class action lawsuit, and Google Wave was discontinued before many users even had a chance to use it.
Yesterday Google unveiled their new social suite known as Google+ (Google Plus). While currently available only by invite and not yet released to the general public, Google+ promises (yet again) to change how we communicate and integrate with other users. But this time, I think that Google has really hit the nail dead-center on the head. Sure, the company is surly going to struggle to convert millions of users over to their services, but in all honesty I think that what Google has shown us this week is very innovative.
Why? First off, I’m very impressed with Circles; a feature that allows for people to group and separate individual groups of friends that they can selectively share content with. Be it a status update, photos, or event information, I’m very impressed that Google+ finally understands the needs for users to maintain isolated groups of friends. Don’t get me wrong, I already use such a feature on Facebook and I openly applaud Facebook’s implementation of such a feature. But with people more and more concerned with privacy recently, Google’s implementation of this feature seems to be much more seamless and easy to use. For this reason alone, I think it’s safe to say that privacy conscious individuals such as myself will grasp at Google+ as soon as possible.
Another feature that I’m really excited about is Hangouts, an offering that will allow users to spontaneously plan and organize quick meet-ups based on availability and location of colleagues and associates. Now, this isn’t exactly the type of service that you would use to plan a “static” event like a birthday party with, but it seems like it’s aimed towards spur of the moment sit-downs at coffee shops or restaurants. Going back to my comparison with Facebook, Google’s offering seems to be very much like the “check-in” service (which is in itself nothing more than a Foursquare knockoff). However, the collaboration feature seems to be refined and much more useful.
Beyond that, though, the service doesn’t offer anything all that new. Sure, Instant Upload from your mobile phone will probably be a cool feature to take advantage of, but the fact of the matter is that it’s nothing more than what every other social network – even the multimedia messaging that phones sport out of the box – offer. Likewise the concept of Huddle, a group-chat service for your mobile phone, is genius. But when it comes down to it, Google already offers Google Talk for mobile devices; and even that service isn’t all that special in comparison to all of the chat services for mobile devices. Even Sparks – the feature that finds videos and articles that it thinks you will like – doesn’t seem like anything more than a refined implementation of what Google already offers in Google Reader.
Because Google+ isn’t a finalized product yet and I have yet to try it for myself, I’m going to hold off on developing a firm opinion for right now. But really, it seems like Google has managed to steal its own ideas.