On Tuesday Google introduced their Google+ project, the latest in a fairly long line of efforts at establishing a successful social network. Previous efforts, including Buzz, Orkut and Wave, have all flopped. The failure of Google's previous forays into social networking has often been attributed to the engineering culture that Google has grown up on, and makes their search so effective. However, this time around they may have finally found a network capable of challenging Facebook. Google initially allowed the fairly small pool of people with access to Google+ to invite their friends to try the service, however they had to shut down the invite system just a few hours later due to "insanely high" demand.
Many people who have trailed the service have commented how similar it is to Facebook, albeit with a few very important differences. Google+ still has a home news feed, a profile similar to that on Facebook, friend suggestions and chat. Google+ however has managed to address one of the major problems with Facebook: The Overshare. The problem with being friends with everyone you know in the real world on Facebook is quite simple, there are certain things you wouldn't share with certain groups of people in the real world. Google+ presents any easy way to overcome this problem - with circles.
Circles allows you put each of you Google+ contacts into the real world "circle" that they exist in. These "circles" are created and controlled by the user, so now when you update your status, upload a photo, video or any other content, it's easy to choose which contacts you share it with. Your news feed (in Facebook) or stream (in Google+) can also be filtered by circles, meaning that if you can listen to as much or as little as you want from each of your social circles. So for example if you're on work and didn't want to hear anything from your work colleagues, so can simply de-select this social circle from your news feed. Facebook tried to address this problem with Groups, however Google's circles seems much more efficient at "grouping" (no pun intended) your contacts into the relevant social circles, and makes it much easier to share with exactly who you want to share with.
Google+ does have many more
new features such as Sparks, which looks more at how and why we share,
and Hangouts, which allows you to have group video chats with your
circles. More information can be found on Google+ and the new features
it offers in this video playlist
Is Circles as Facebook challenger? Only time will tell, but for now interest seems very high in this new project, and its has been met with much more enthusiasm than Google's previous social efforts. A major problem for Google is that Facebook's dominance as the social network of choice over the last few years has meant that people have built their lives on Facebook, finding all their friends and favourite brands, uploading all of their photos etc. Although Google+ offers a lot of features that Facebook doesn't, its success really depends on whether people are willing to re-build their online profiles somewhere else.Its a big step for people to take, but you only have to look at MySpace, once valued at $1.5bn and sold this week for $35m, to know that if people think someone else offers a better service, they'll try it out.