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Google+ - What’s the fuss about?

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Mike Gomez

SEO Strategy Manager

Wow! This is big, even for Google. Google has released their new social platform called Google+ and you know what – for all that I (and others) have panned Google’s social efforts in the past, I have a really good feeling about this. It's fresh, sexy and looks like it could be a success. It’s been coming for a while and the indicators have been there: rumours of a Google “Circles” product since early last year, Google +1 experiment, Google +1 web button, the revamp of Google Profiles and finally the mysterious black bar across the top of Google’s search page.

What is Google+?

Google+ is a new social platform, one to (Google hope) rival Facebook in the coming months and years. It has the features you would want from Facebook – updates, photo uploads, sharing videos, etc. It looks like Google has taken this to a new level, in terms of functionality and usability, to make sharing much more seamless and easy.  This will certainly be key to Google getting one up on Facebook. Moving on to the features...

Interface

Does the above look familiar to you? It certainly does to me too and in that lies an advantage. Strip away the branding, and the user interface looks remotely like Facebook. In turn, Facebook’s layout is one that is familiar with user base so having a similar feel will allow new adopters to feel instantly comfortable and at home. It’s a safe card to play and one that won’t scare away users like Google Wave did before it died a premature death.

Circles

Google Circles is a new way to create groups of friends, family and acquaintances through an easy drag and droppable feature. Yep, Facebook has a group feature too and yep, you can show content to specific groups. So what’s different? Well, Circles is a core feature of Google+, it is much easier to use than Facebook and is much more intuitive. It also helps bypass a lot of security issues that Facebook has encountered in the past. In other words, Circles allows you to share the content you want with the right people.

Sparks

“In general, it’s like you find something awesome and the first thing you want to do is talk about it with someone.” Google Sparks video Sparks is a great feature, and one that Google have dubbed an “online sharing engine.” Search for topic of interest and what you get is a feed of content, photos and videos that “Sparks” believes you’ll like. From here, save what you like for later or share among your circles and begin a new conversation with your friends who have the same commonalities. Google +1 was recently rolled out as a web button (think of it as Facebook’s Like button), was also added to the search results and is also integrated into your Google Profile. As such, it is likely this will become a big part of Google+ in the future, similarly to how the Tweet Button and Facebook ‘Like’ has for their respective networks.

Hangouts

Hangouts is a way of opening up group video chats with certain circles or your whole community. The really great thing about this is that it’s totally on the fly. What do I mean by that? Friends can drop in and out of the video conversation as they please with no interference on the rest of the group.

Instant Upload

Moving on to mobile, there will also be a selection of features available on Android in order to make sharing of content much much easier. (iPhone users – don’t panic, there will be an app!) Instant upload is a feature where photos and videos are instantly uploaded to your profile and in to a private folder. From there, you simply choose what you want to share and with which circles.

Huddle

Finally, Huddle. Put simply, this is group texting. Huddle sets up groups so that the users involved can have a group chat. This feature will be available through Android, iOS phones as well as SMS messaging.

Opinion

So there you have your features, now let’s get down to the dirty. Is this finally going to be that amazing successful social attempt Google are so desperate to grab or will this be a complete and utter smack in the face failure?

What’s standing in Google’s way?

Facebook

The current behemoth in the industry hands down. Having officially launched back in 2006, Facebook has a five year advantage and a team that could easily match any feature that Google throws into the ring. Furthermore, they have the user database 700,000,000 accounts and counting. They must be doing something right and Google must continue to offer something amazing in order to persuade users over to Google+. Moreover, that user must also persuade their contacts to switch too in order to have a worthwhile experience.

Where’s the user base?

Let’s get one thing straight: I do not think Google+ will be an instant hit, nor will it be a Facebook “killer” – at least in the short term. What I do believe is that it can challenge Facebook in certain aspects of social. Moreover, tying Google+ into search will factor highly in to its success as this is where Google’s user base is situated. As already mentioned, Facebook has a mammoth user base. Google’s social user base in comparison is pretty much non-existent. There will be early adopters of Google Profiles and +1 button clickers, but will that alone be enough to gain enough traction to reach critical mass? We saw how important reaching critical mass was to the success of Twitter way back in 2009. Awareness campaigns will definitely be required too. What’s the bet that there will be a Google+ advert at next year’s Super Bowl?

What does this mean for search?

Both Google and Bing publicly announced that they are using social signals as factors within their ranking algorithm. Google are already looking at retweets and likes; these alone can help something rank highly in the search results. As such, surely the discussions, the shares and the +1’s of content around the web will contribute to this and will also contribute to how Google moves forward in the future should Google+ become a success.

Summary

Google looks like it is finally on to something here and the look, feel and features are looking great (then again, we said that about Wave). The key things Google needs to do is somehow tie this into search (and I’m not talking about the questionable search results +1 button!). Whether this is though “social” recommendations from users within Google+ or even Twitter, it dearly needs to be looked at in order to take advantage of the colossal search audience Google already owns. They then need to take advantage of Chrome. It has grown as a browser substantially since it was released. Adding extension buttons (whether optional or compulsory via an update) will certainly allow users to easily share content straight into their Google+ account. Either way, Google will need to put in a lot of time and effort in order to keep providing users with smart, intuitive and seamless functionality. And this is just to get their foot through the door, increase their user base and begin pinching at the ankles of Facebook. It’s going to be an interesting battle between Google and Facebook over the coming months and years, and hopefully that pinching of the ankles can become a full blown fist fight of words, features and functionality (to the benefit of social users of course!).

Videos

Below is a selection of the main features of Google+. If you want to see more videos, check out the Google+ YouTube Playlist.

Other Coverage

TechCrunch - http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/28/google-plus/ TechCrunch Google+ iPhone App - http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/28/google-plus-iphone-web-app/ Search Engine Land - http://searchengineland.com/first-look-hands-on-with-google-plus-83486 Search Engine Journal - http://www.searchenginejournal.com/a-look-at-google-%E2%80%93-the-long-awaited-google-social-network/30859/ State of Search - http://www.stateofsearch.com/googles-social-network-is-here-we-saw-the-signals-but-will-it-succeed/ Please leave your comments either on here or on Twitter - @alwaysmikegomez