Google+ goes plus-sized with public launch

The search giant's latest attempt at social networking has opened for business. Can it take on Facebook?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 21 Sep 2011
Since its beta launch at the end of June, it’s attracted more than 20m users and had more than 1bn items shared on its pages - but will Google+, the search goliath’s attempt at storming the social networking market, be as big as Facebook? The service opens to the public for the first time today - but considering Twitter has more than 100m active users while Facebook has about 800m, it’s got a long way to go before it can take on the social networking giants...

What’s interesting is that when the service originally launched as an invitation-only trial on June 29, it had lukewarm reviews from critics and experts. But the take-up was nonetheless enthusiastic (although whether people continued to use it after the initial rash of excitement is another question) - in part, because of the privacy options it affords users. Google+’s ‘Circles’ feature gives users absolute control over who gets to see what - whether they just want their best mate to see a post, or they want to broadcast something to the world. As privacy has been a major complaint for users of rivals, that was a savvy move by Google.

The company said that it’s added nine brand new features to the public version of Google+. Among others, users can now video chat on Google+-compatible mobile phones (ie. ones using Google’s Android operating system). Users can also record video chats for their friends to watch later. So a sort of in-Google+ version of YouTube, but with more privacy controls, we presume.

If Google+, which is estimated to have cost the company $585m, flops, that may be the end of Google’s dalliance with social networking - after all, it’s been forced to admit defeat on several projects, including Orkut, which did well in India and Brazil but failed everywhere else; Buzz, which had such poor privacy features that it led to a 20-year oversight ruling from the US Federal Trade Commission; and Wave, which, after all sorts of predictions that this was the future of social networking, was quietly withdrawn after a few months.

But Google insists it’s on to a winner this time. ‘Our goal... is to make sharing on the web like sharing in real life,’ said CEO Larry Page. Only time will tell whether that’s what people actually want...

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