Google gives social networking another go

The search giant says it's about to launch a new project, mysteriously entitled 'Google+'. Fourth time lucky?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 07 Oct 2011
Has Google finally come up with its answer to Facebook? The search giant has launched a new feature entitled Google+, which, it says, will make sharing information with your friends a little bit more like real-life interaction, while circumventing mounting concerns over privacy. Since this often tends to be the issue that puts people off Facebook, that gives Google+ a ready-made target market of disgruntled ex-Facebookers. But can it really catch up with social networking’s undisputed leader at this stage in the race?

According to Google, the new project is intended to make online sharing less ‘awkward’, as the company’s senior vice-president of engineering, Vic Gundotra, put it. Thus, its focus will be on sharing with real-life groups (ie. friends, colleagues, team-mates etc), rather than having to look at baby photos posted by people its users have lost touch with or (in the case of Twitter) have never met.  

The site is divided into various features, including ‘Circles’, which allows users to drag-and-drop their friends into groups; ‘Sparks’, which lets its users share content from around the web, and ‘Hangout’, which enables real-time sharing (for example, they can watch the same YouTube video at the same time. Clever – although arguably a touch pointless?).

It’s not the first time Google has tried its hand at social networking. For its sake, we hope this is more successful than previous attempts: while Orkut failed to make much of an impression outside Brazil, Buzz, billed as a Twitter-killer, didn’t even bruise it. And Wave, designed to encourage real-time collaboration, was given the heave-ho after just a few months. But the good news is that while Google+ seems to incorporate elements of all three, it also looks a lot more advanced.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why Google+ will find it incredibly difficult to usurp Facebook altogether. For a start, Facebook has a critical mass of users,it'll be hard for Google to persuade these people to switch unless their friends do the same. But despite its previous failures, Google might not have missed the social networking boat entirely. Although there's some debate about whether Facebook's user numbers are going up, going down, or somewhere in between, there does seem to be a bit of Facebook fatigue creeping in, particularly with younger users (if you’re a teenager, Facebook loses its appeal a bit when your mum and dad can see everything you’ve been up to). So it's there to be shot at. But will Google+ succeed where Wave and co clearly failed? We're a little sceptical - but this at least appears to be Google's best attempt yet.

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