Friday, 1 July 2011

Not so positive about Google+

So Google has now revealed its latest hand in the social media battle and once again they’ve upped the ante with Google+. Mind you, it wasn’t too difficult to come back with something better than the much maligned Buzz and Wave. With Facebook rampant and seemingly having the ability to destroy anyone in their path, I can’t help but think, is it really worth the effort and expense?

Announcements this week have unveiled a set of 4 unique features, that do things Facebook doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t do yet. Although some of these features sound appealing on paper, is it really enough to convince 600million Facebook fans to switch allegiance?

My professional stance is that if Google are trying this hard and investing this much cash into getting the social network right, they must have a clever money making strategy in place for how Google+ can generate huge revenues. Therefore I expect that they may make it easier for brands to find fans or likes or +1s or whatever the Google+ equivalent term will be for those that follow a brand and in some way they will charge for this. Immediately I’m drawn to the ‘Sparks’ tool, which will allow users to find people talking about things that interest them and join in the conversation. I can already imagine certain brands salivating about having access to this tool, but I’m sure they will need to cross Google’s palm with silver.

So what else has Google+ got in its locker? The ‘Circles’ element will allow people to group their friends and family, effectively creating a list of mini-communities within their entire group of friends. The idea behind this feature is to cut out some of the noise that Facebook creates, so rather than seeing everything that all of your friends post, you can strip this down so that certain friends are alerted to only content relevant to them. A sensible idea in principle, but one I think will split opinion amongst Facebook users. There is an argument that a lot of people quite like seeing everything that everyone’s up to. I’m also wondering if there is any risk of upsetting people who don’t make it into your ‘best mates circle’?

The other two big tools Google has promised are ‘Hangouts’ and ‘Instant Uploads’. Hangouts look like an enhancement of the instant messenger feature of Facebook crossed with Skype. They allow you to see which friends are online, and then start conversations with them. The difference being that you’ll be able to have group conversations together and will be able to use your webcam and microphone to see and hear your friends and imagine that they’re all with you in the same room. A nice idea but nothing you can’t do already with Skype.

Instant Uploads seems like the best new feature to me. It will sync any picture or video taken on your smartphone with your Google+ account, sending it all to a private storage area automatically with no need to upload anything. You can then instantly access these files and share them straight away with any Circles that you wish to see them. This is a useful piece of kit which will save time and effort for users but is it enough?

Facebook is to social networking, what Google is to search engines, and my personal view is that after having two already botched attempts at social networks, maybe Google should stick to what they do best. Can I really be bothered to set up another ‘profile’ to effectively add the same friends and do the same things I can already do on Facebook? Not really, but I will for two reasons, one because as a digital PR person I’m obliged too, and two, I’m curious. But if I had to place a bet on whether Google+ was really going to compete with Facebook, I’d say no, no matter what the odds were.


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