Tuesday, June 28, 2011


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Startups Google Launches Google+ To Battle Facebook
[PICS] 06/28/11 by Ben Parr Google has finally unveiled Google+, the
company’s top secret social layer that turns all of
the search engine into one giant social network. Google+, which begins rolling out a very limited
field test on Tuesday, is the culmination of a year-
long project led by Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior
vice president of social. The project, which has been delayed several times, constitutes Google’s answer to Facebook. The search giant’s new social project will be
omnipresent on its products, thanks to a
complete redesign of the navigation bar. The
familiar gray strip at the top of every Google
page will turn black, and come with several new
options for accessing your Google+ profile, viewing notifications and instantly sharing
content. The notification system is similar to how
Facebook handles notifications, complete with a
red number that increases with each additional
notice. At its core, Google+ is a social network. The first
thing users are introduced to is the Stream. It’s
much like the Facebook News Feed, allowing
users to share photos, videos, links or their
location with friends. Screenshots: What Google+ Looks Like View As One Page » Image 1 of 7 Google+ Logo This is the Google+ logo. Circles+ That’s where Google+ begins to diverge from
Facebook, though. The focus of this social project
is not on sharing with a mass group of friends,
but on targeted sharing with your various social
groups. To do this, Google uses a system called
Circles. Gundotra explained that most social media
services (read: Facebook, Twitter) haven’t been
successful with friend lists because they’ve been
designed as a “tack-on” product rather than
being integrated at every level. Gundotra also
believes that current friend list products are awkward and not rewarding to use. SEE ALSO: Google+: First Impressions Google+ Circles is an attempt to address that
challenge. The HTML5 system allows users to
drag-and-drop their friends into different social
circles for friends, family, classmates, co-workers
and other custom groups. Users can drag groups
of friends in and out of these circles. One of the nice things about the product is its
whimsical nature — a puff of smoke and a -1
animation appears when you remove a friend,
and when you remove a social circle, it rolls
away off the screen. Photos & Group Video Chat It’s clear from the extended demo that Gundotra
and his team have thought about every aspect
and detail of Google+ thoroughly. The photo,
video and mobile experiences are no exception. Google has created a section specifically for
viewing, managing and editing multimedia. The
photo tab takes a user to all of the photos he or
she has shared, as well as the ones he or she is
tagged in. It’s not just photo tagging, though:
Google+ includes an image editor (complete with Instagram-like photo effects), privacy options
and sharing features. The video chat feature might be one of the most
interesting aspects of Google+. Gundotra and his
team thought about why group chat hasn’t
become a mainstream phenomenon. He
compared it to knocking on a neighbor’s door at
8 p.m. — most people don’t do it because it isn’t a social norm. However, if a group of friends are
sitting on a porch and you just happen to walk
by, it’s almost rude not to say hi. That’s the concept behind “Hangouts,” Google’s
new group chat feature. Instead of directly
asking a friend to join a group chat, users instead
click “start a hangout” and they’re instantly in a
video chatroom alone. At the same time, a
message goes out to their social circles, letting them know that their friend is “hanging out.” The
result, Google has found in internal testing, is that
friends quickly join. One cool feature of Hangouts is that it doesn’t
place a chat window on the screen for each
participant. Instead, Google changes the chat
screen to whoever is currently talking. It quickly
switches from video feed to video feed, moving
faster in bigger groups. The maximum members in any video Hangout is 10, though users can get
on a waitlist and wait for someone to leave. Content Discovery Through Sparks To spur sharing, Google has added a
recommendation engine for finding interesting
content. The feature, Google+ Sparks, is a
collection of articles, videos, photos and other
content grouped by interest. For example, the
“Movies” spark will have a listing of recent and relevant content for that topic. The system is algorithmic — it relies on
information from other Google products (e.g.
Google Search) as well as what is being shared
via Google+ and through +1 buttons. The goal, according to Gundotra, is to make it
dead-simple for users to explore their interests
and share what they find with their friends.
Google+ is attempting to become the one-stop
shop not only for sharing content, but for finding
it as well. In some ways, it reminds us of Twitter and its mission to become an information
network, and “instantly connect people everywhere to what’s most important to them .” Mobile Google will also be launching mobile apps for
Google+, starting with Android. The Android app
includes access to the Stream, Circles, Sparks and
multimedia. The addition of these features in a mobile app
isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise, though, is the
app’s auto-upload feature. Any photo or video
you take on your phone through Google+ will
automatically be uploaded to your computer,
ready to share. These uploads aren’t public, but the next time you log onto your desktop, the
photos button in the status bar will have a
number, indicating how many new uploads are
available for sharing. It keeps these photos and
videos available for sharing for eight hours after
upload. Gundotra says that Google intends to launch apps
for Google+ on other platforms in the future. Conclusion Google freely admitted to me during our
conversation that its previous attempt at social,
Google Buzz, did not live up to expectations.
Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of
product, says that part of the problem was that
Buzz was just “tacked on” as a link on millions of Gmail accounts, something that Google won’t be
repeating. Horowitz also says that, unlike the
Buzz rollout, Google+ is a project that will roll out
in stages. In many ways, it reminds us of Gmail’s rollout.
Invites to Google’s email service were so sought
after at one point that people were selling them
for $50 or more on eBay. While that type of
fervor may not hit Google+, we expect the
artificial scarcity will drive up interest while giving Google time to work out the kinks. SEE ALSO: What Do You Think of Google+? [POLL] No matter what Google says, Google+ is the
company’s response to the rise of Facebook. The
two companies are in heated competition for
talent, page views and consumers. While Google
controls the search market and has a strong
presence on mobile with Android, it hasn’t been able to crack the social nut. Its most successful
social product, YouTube, had to be acquired, and
it still ranks as one of the most expensive
acquisitions in the company’s history. Has Google finally nailed social with Google+?
We’re going to publish more of our thoughts on
Google’s new social network in the next few
hours, but we will say this: Google no longer gets
a free pass in social. It must prove that it can
draw users and keep them engaged in a way that doesn’t replicate Facebook or Twitter’s
functionality. Only time will tell if Google has
finally found its magical arrow.

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