The growth of the social web has been drawing eyeballs away from the internet proper – the place where Google makes its dough through search ads – at an alarming rate in recent times, so to keep on top Google has added its presence to the social sphere too, with Google+.
Google+ is a collection of social tools the company has added to its existing web services which aim to create the kind of social web experience and community Google has generally failed to create thus far. It draws on existing web services such as Google Profiles – the ability to create a searchable public profile page – and its +1 search recommendation feature.
Google+ has five core features so far: Circles, Hangouts, Instant Upload, Sparks and Huddle.
These offer Google+ users the ability to connect with people they know, share content with other users in a targeted way, follow particular interests, chat online and even indulge in a group video chat.
This feature allows you to group people into different social circles, so rather than having one generic friends list, as you would in Facebook, you create different circles of Google+ users.
The idea is to make it easier to share relevant content with different social circles, rather than broadcasting that funny cat video to everyone you’ve ever met.
So far, video-chatting has proved a pretty tough sell, but Google is hoping its Hangouts feature will encourage more casual video-chatting. The system lets Google+ users inform particular friends or Circles that they’re in a video-chatting mood. Up to 10 Google+ users can then join in the videofest.
Instant Upload. This feature does what it says on the tin for Smartphone users. Snap a photo with your iPhone and it can be automatically uploaded to a private Google+ album. Users can then choose which of the photo uploads to share with others. This takes the legwork out of uploading all those photos of your family holiday to your social network.
You can have content sent to you based on topics you are interested in. Tell Google+ you like skydiving, for instance, and it will push blogs, videos and photos relating to skydiving in your direction. Think of it as another Facebook Like button. Huddle. Finally, this collaboration feature makes it easier to IM (instant message) chat with groups of people when using the mobile version of Google+. Google has tried real-time comms before, in Google Wave, but it fizzled out after users failed to embrace it.
Google+ may sound a bit convoluted, but the key to the project is its attempt to unify everything.
At the time of publication the new social services are in a ‘field trial period’ – that is, an invitation- only beta.
If you have a Google account you can sign in and create a Google+ account (plus.google.com). Otherwise, at this stage you will have to get a Google+ user to invite you.
By taking it slowly, Google is also showing its in this for the long haul. The service will stand or fall on whether enough people choose to use it. A party that includes few of your friends is not a party you’re likely to hang around at for very long – or even bother turning up to at all.