Perhaps you've heard of the new social network by the internet's biggest name, Google. Still in beta form, the company's latest project has amassed 10+ million users already, and some are considering it a viable alternative to Facebook. While still too early to come to any substantial verdict as to either network's superiority, I think it's quite evident that Google+ is the search giant's direct answer to Facebook. As you may already know, tensions between the top two sites on the net are high, with each boldly encroaching upon the territory of the other (earlier this year Facebook's ugly smear-campaign against Google was uncovered, signaling just how desperate the situation between the two has gotten).
Google+ (however arid relations may have between the two dot.com titans) seemed to come out of nowhere, not unlike Twitter in 2006 (to which my initial reaction, shared by many others, was one of sheer bewilderment). Twitter it seemed, served no purpose but to sound off bits about the most mundane and banal events in a one's daily life. But what Twitter ended up becoming was not just a stream of status updates by friends, but instead a means to follow people you don't know and have never met. The format of a 140 character-limit birthed an era of modern haikus, mentions, and hashtags, eventually becoming an ever-evolving culture in and of itself. Somehow the same tidbit meant something entirely different when followed up with a clever hashtag – it seemed that what many initially saw as the bane of the service was instead proving to be the source of its charm and allure. Twitter grew to become a window on the lives of people more accomplished or interesting than yourself, as well as a means of collaboration and mutual inspiration and enrichment.
I have to admit, at first I wasn't sure how Google+ was going to get off the ground. Given the heated competition between Google and Facebook at the moment, Google+ initially seemed to be an act of desperation more than anything else. Creating a new social network in a Facebook/Twitter dominated climate seems extremely bold on Google's part. However I'm beginning to realize that Google+ provides a refreshing new way to communicate and collaborate, functioning much like a fleshed out and more intimate Twitter, a more curated and sophisticated Facebook... a customizable stream/blog for each segment of your social and personal life – a veritable hybrid (and evolution) of all that we currently call social networking.
Circles presents a fundamental change in the organization of contacts – whereas Facebook's friend system is essentially indiscriminate, grouping everyone under the umbrella of 'friend', Google+ presupposes that the people in your life comprise different circles, each representing unique pieces of your social life. Quite a few of your Facebook friends are probably uncles, long-lost high school classmates, acquaintances one added out of a sense of obligation, co-workers, etc., and so the same circle of friends who you'd like to share this article with may have no interest in the new vegan cupcake mix you found on your favorite vegan blog. Circles takes away the anxiety of re-designating friends into the categories the way that Facebook's lists, if we decide to use them, requires us to do.
Sparks lets you keep up to date on the latest trending stories on whatever topic you wish – simply add a new term (i.e. visual arts, social media, vegan recipes, China's economy, etc.) and it will remain in the sidebar for quick access. The articles it pulls up can be quickly shared with the circles of your choice (or made public for all users). In a similar vein there is +1, Google's answer to Facebook's sharing utility "Like", which adds another layer of personalization to the user experience. +1 manages also to socialize once remotes corners of the web – instead reading an article and forgetting it, you can opt to +1 it, adding it to a list in your Google+ profile (available for all to see), and further refining Google's search analytics to cater to your interests. If you care to share something you've come across, you can easily share it with the Circles of your choosing, in a form not unlike Facebook's streaming wall posts.
Hangouts serves as the service's video-chatting utility, in which you start a Hangout with any given Circle of 'friends', and as others in that Circle come online, they can freely join in on the conversation (or rather, "hang out"). Huddle is a similar feature, except it's only accessible via mobile phone (as of this article the iPhone app has yet to be released) and is restricted to text messaging. While these features alone are nothing groundbreaking, they do add a further element of spontaneity and connectivity to Google's new social network.
Google+'s (along with +1's) aim will be to make the entire web a more connected and personalized place, and social networking a far more collaborative (and thus interesting, dynamic, and enriched) experience. As more users join, participate in conversations, share articles, +1 their favorite content, create sparks, "hang out", and so on, the community will become richer, more dynamic and alive, and the sleeping beast (that is, Google+'s potential) shall rear its head...
...the way we interface with the internet may very well be forever changed – again.
The inarticulate (and slightly obnoxious/humorous) promo video released by Google:
(love the turtle btw)
The official Google+ demo/promo YouTube playlist: