It had to happen someday or the other. Knowing Google’s (by now, predictive) ways of barging into the scene and offering something impressive for free, it was only a matter of time before they decided to build their own social networking service – Google+. Google already has Orkut, which for a long time was popular in India but slowly, users migrated to the more trendy Facebook.
Google+ enjoyed all the hype created by anxious fans and the media like many of their product launches in the past. I’ve been using it since a week and there aren’t any major issues as such. One thing is for sure, it lacks the fun element that people find in Facebook. So the question that many users are asking is whether Google+ is going to kill Facebook.
Will it attract the crowds?
I’ve never really thought of Google as being very good with developing and running social networking services. Orkut has slowly been slipping away and Buzz didn’t do too well, either. Somehow, they don’t seem to make the right kind of innovations for those services. It’s always been the productivity and function-oriented services that have worked well for Google. Twitter continues to be the leading micro blogging service out there, by far. Many of the people I know prefer Picasa over Flickr even though Picasa might have fewer restrictions.
There are several observations, some mine and some others. Google+ comes across as a mix of Facebook and Twitter. On one hand, it has the same friendship system like Facebook, where users can choose to add known friends. At the same time, there’s no compulsion to add a stranger as a friend like on Facebook. It’s open, like on Twitter, where users are free to add complete strangers to their list.
Whether or not it beats Facebook is hard to say at this stage. The service hasn’t even been made fully public. There’s a strong possibility that Facebook and Google+ will exist side by side for a long time. Users of Facebook won’t make a switch over to Google+ unless all of their friends and contacts are present there.
While I’m not particularly fond of the games and apps on Facebook, there are many users who spend hours on them. Google+ as of today, has no such provision for games and apps, so new users will sense the void. As with anything that’s free, instant gratification usually ends up with users leaving the service immediately. I personally prefer a social networking site that’s meant purely for interactions. I like Google+ for that reason, but without too many users actively using it in the future, I might end up back on Facebook.
Google+’s success if it is to be, lies in the way it functions. Google+ requires users to add people to circles, the same circle adds people to their friend lists. Google+ forces you to add friends to separate Circles. Facebook by default adds new contacts to your friends list. It's your choice if you want to create private lists and accordingly share posts with them. It’s the same case while posting messages on walls. Google specifically asks you (on the desktop and on the mobile), which circles you’d like to post messages on. Automatically, there’s pressure on you to sort and categorize your friends and contacts. On one hand, if you get it all right, it’s great. On the other hand, you’re left wondering which friends end up in which list and whether there is bound to be some overlap.
There's a lot to like
The actual task of adding contacts to Google+ is much simpler than Facebook, I’ve come to realize. I’ve always tried to be specific and selective on Facebook while adding contacts, but Google+ makes it much more casual. The drag and drop method feels more “friendly” than say, a Confirm and Request command. That’s bound to make users’ Google+ networks much larger than they already are on Facebook.
Of course, it’s not all jolly at Google+. There are a bunch of issues, some to do with security. For example, users have found that all of their photos from their Android phones have been uploaded to the web, but thankfully not shared.
I get the strange feeling that Google+ (even though I hope it doesn’t) will fail somewhere down the line. Google has a notorious habit of adding features and making fixes all the time and all of their products evolve really quickly. It doesn’t always work – like in the case of Wave. I was personally, very excited and in practice, for work, it was a great tool.
Google is gearing up many other services and apps such as Picasa and Blogger, all re-aligned for the new Google+ service, as well. Facebook or Twitter won’t be replaced by Google+. If Google gets its act together, Google Plus might be able to make a space for itself.