The introduction of Google Plus, amidst of frenzy of product improvements and introductions by Google, represents the first salvo in a war between Facebook and Google for the soul and the direction of the Internet. It may also reveal the thinking and ambitions of Larry Page, who now has a firm grip on Google’s tiller.
Google, the ubiquitous utility with a billion users, might be the only contender with the technical firepower, cash, scale and energy to take on Zuckerberg & Company, who clearly aim to swallow the Internet as evidenced by the use of Facebook Connect as single sign-on device, the widespread use of the Like button as a sharing and voting tool and regulated but wide access to the Facebook API as the connective tissue underlying an array of functionality.
As Ben Elowitz noted in his All Things Digital blog piece, Google focused on processes and utilities (search, maps, e-mail, satellite images) to dominate the Web since the 90s. But Facebook, focusing on people and the connections between them, has already matched and will regularly exceed Google’s traffic. Facebook is becoming a “new home base” for people to use the Web. As the gateway to content and functionality, Facebook will be in a position to set the agenda and squash nascent competitors.
Google + is a button (similar to Like) and a social network (reflective of Facebook). In addition to launching these directly competitive offerings, Google has also redesigned its search home page, introduced free analytics tools for social and mobile media, launched Mobile Sites landing pages, built a Google Plus Android app, created Google Swiffy which converts Flash files to HTML5 and promises even more inventions and upgrades.
The early reviews for the Google + social network project are mostly favorable. It’s clear that Google has learned from its past mistakes and has adopted tools and lessons learned from others in the space. The friending and sorting tool looks and feels like Plaxo’s friend finder. The home page, minus a wall, resembles a streamlined Facebook page.
The new functionality – Circles for finding and sorting friends is not new but emphasizes the need to bucket friends and makes it easy. Hangout, a Skype-like, group video chat function is a nice to have feature that will appeal to certain audience segments. Sparks and Huddle allow an individual to cue or organize online or offline group activity easily.
Other not-so-new but useful refined features include emphasis on mobile and social tools like an easy photo upload tool, instant connections to Gmail, a simple sharing mechanism, the ability to add location, using the GPS function, to any post. While this will appeal to developers eager to participate in Android’s spectacular growth, these are cool and useful but hardly killer apps.
Clearly Google watched, listened and responded to evolving needs and nuances in the use of social media. The Google Plus features make sense and add incremental value to the social networking experience. They also refine, build and improve functions that will enable and accelerate advertising sales opportunities. What’s not clear is why somebody would either switch from Facebook to Google+ or add it as a second social network.
Google+ will get a lot of attention. Launched using Google’s standard BETA-invitation only tactic, it is spawning curiosity and demand. But the really play is long term as King Kong meets Godzilla.