Google launched their latest attempt to match Facebook in social networking at the end of June. Their last try, Google Wave, had a tepid reception at best and was shuttered in August 2010. They do have a social network that is doing well, just not here in the United States. Orkut is a runaway success in Brazil and India, where it has significant market share, but a measly 1.4% of its traffic is U.S. based.
At first glance, the website has a bar at the top to search for people, your picture at the top left, links down a left column, friends on the right side with suggestions, and a news feed down the center where you can type a status. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, this sounds suspiciously like another cornflower blue and white website…” Yes, the parallels to Facebook are blatantly obvious.
Google is trying to lure in people with a similar interface, but with some nuance in the way it manages friends. In Facebook, you have a big heap of friends and everything you send is blasted out to every one of them, every time. Google Plus is all about categorizing and splitting up groups your friends are in. Facebook has a similar feature, but it isn’t central to the experience, nor widely used.
In Google Plus, you start by making these groups, called “circles.” There are a bunch of names of friends, and you drop them into different bubbles to split them up. In each circle you can create a different personality of yourself by posting pictures, statuses, and sharing things unique to that group.
Facebook just added Skype-based video chats; similarly Google Plus has “hangouts,” which are group video chats of up to 10 people at once. Other features (and there are a lot) include “sparks,” a “sharing engine” to find things that might interest your friends, and “huddle,” which is an iOS, Android, and texting app to communicate with people in your “circles.” Also, expect the Google +1 button to show up in Google search results, along with all the other buttons so that you can like, digg, stumbleupon, reddit, wonder about it, etc.
Confused? Don’t be. It all makes sense when you actually see and use it in real life. Again, even though Google probably doesn’t like to hear it, Google Plus is pretty similar to Facebook. The only difference is whether or not you like dropping names into bubbles.
By Simon Wu, Technology Editor ’12