Google+ vultures ‘Circling’ Facebook

Forget David and Goliath, Google’s strategy of late has been to pit Goliath against Goliath as the search engine weighs in against the titans of the digital industry. Apple, Microsoft and RIM have found their market shares eaten up by Google’s string of releases. What next for the company with their fingers in all the technology pies? Google+, that’s what . The social network everyone’s talking is now out of its beta testing phase (no more “anyone got a Google+ invite?” Facebook statuses) and open to the masses.

Google’s new social network doesn’t take on just one competitor, however. Google+ has the potential to truly dominate. This is something which Mark Zuckerberg, with his notoriously temperamental chat and mail facilities, has failed to achieve. They’ve already covered browsing, email and beyond. Google+ could finally make Google the one-stop-shop for anything online.

The site has several aspects, the most important of which is Circles. Rather than simply adding friends to a non-descript pile ranging from aunties to acquaintances and cousins to co-workers, Circles allows you to drag and drop friends into groups which fit your relationship with them.

Having your friends grouped separately allows you to share selectively: photos from nights out to uni friends, complaining about work to your family and complaining about your family to work mates. It may mean that we’ll see far fewer stories like this.

The Circles facility of Google+ seems a far more natural way to communicate as carefully as you would offline, allowing a degree of intimacy that is often lost on Facebook. You can also set-up a Circle for people you’re simply following, as with Twitter. Google are already verifying various celebrities’ accounts to ensure that this area of their social network is a success.

Google+ does not stop at ‘profile-based’ social networking. Hangouts provides an alternative to Skype for your video call needs. You can notify all of your Circles or just a selection of friends that you are starting a Hangout and ready to chat; invited friends and Circles can then drop in as they come online.

Hangouts allows video chat between up to ten users but its potential is more than just this; it also allows you to watch online videos with others. While at the moment this is pretty much limited to YouTube, Google, at a recent conference, reviewed their relationship with TV executives suggesting watching TV with friends and family across the globe will soon be possible.

The Sparks feature is where Google+ encroaches on discovery engines like StumbleUpon that find and recommend content from the world wide treasure chest (like this). You can add different areas of interest, or Sparks, uncover new content, and then share your favourite discoveries with specific Circles. This means that you don’t have to worry about spamming all your friends with a passion that you only share with a few.

Mobile is a series of small on-the-go features. The recently renamed Messenger feature is a pretty good replacement for BBM or WhatsApp and can host group messaging. Instant Upload makes it possible to upload photos from your phone as you take them. The Location feature works a lot like Facebook’s Places and means that you can add a location to any post.

The newest addition is to the site is Pages which, similar to its synonymous counterpart on Facebook, allow businesses and celebrities to promote themselves across the social network. Pages has been criticised for offering little more than a basic Google+ profile but if Google’s past dynamism is anything to go on, these critics will be silenced soon enough.

Google+ takes on the strengths of the current armory of social network and improves them. Vitally, it maintains their trademark plain and simple interface, something which was vital to Facebook’s march to Internet dominance. Google+ has not simply reinvented the wheel – it has invented the Circle.

Dom Gilchrist