Google may be able to tackle the social networking monopoly Facebook with its newly launched Google+.
Google + is the search giant's most ambitious attempt to break into the social networking realm, currently dominated by Facebook whose users spend 700 billion minutes per month on the site. While this project is not yet complete and accessible only by invitation, it has spurred high expectations and big interest and China has already banned it as of today.
Despite Google's previous failures with products Buzz and Wave, this newest push is being hailed as the first serious competition to Facebook that draws more than 500 million users.
Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, a social-media advisory firm, says Google+'s goal is not to replace Facebook.
"Key thing here is that going against Facebook directly is suicidal," says Li. "Google has found a seamless formula with more structure. It really is the plus part. It is extending Google's communication platforms into a unified sharing platform."
Li points out that Google has turned messaging into sharing and it has recognized that sharing happens within communities and small groups -- with people whom you want to share with. In this sense, Google+ understands that individual contacts in your address book have different contexts and allows you to manage those relationships differently through a simple interface -- drag and drop.
It seeks to make traditionally risky online sharing more personal, selective and most importantly—private.
In allowing its users to have control over content sharing, Google believes Google + offers its users a more nuanced online sharing that mimics real life. "Online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it," said Vic Gundotra, Google's Senior Vice President of Engineering of Google + in the company blog.
Erica Newland, a policy analyst at Center for Democracy and Technology who has had access to Google+ says, "It seems to be a really cool product with brand new services. It is very clear that Google is competing on privacy and that will be appealing to a lot of users."
As Facebook and other social networking sites are constantly battling privacy issues, Google + offers its users to selectively share what you want, to whom you want. Features such as Circles allow you to create distinct groups for different people in your contacts and through that, a user can invite respective group members to group video chat, send messages, share photos and search results of your common interests. In essence, it unifies the different platforms through which people communicate, consolidating many of Google's existing products such as Gmail, GChat and others into one place with the people you already know in your contacts.
Many analysts including Newland claim Circles is an innovative way to give users control over who they are sharing with, targeting their messages and the content they share. While Google+ is still an ongoing project, Newland predicts that this feature can make Google+ a viable option for parents concerned about their children being online.
"The amount of control built into Google+ will minimize mistaken sharing," says Newland. "That should give a lot of confidence to parents that their children will not be sharing any information to those not intended to receive it."
Li, as a parent of a 16 year old, agrees that Google+ is definitely a good and safe alternative. "As a parent of a then nine-year-old daughter who once mistakenly shared information publicly through Buzz, Google+ is very comforting. It's an issue of control. Being more private in your communication is highly important."