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What Is Google+?

Gordon Kelly



Add a profile picture, write a short introduction about yourself, start posting status updates and start looking up your friends. Can you really find the motivation to join another social network? Google is counting on it...

This week the search giant, Android and Chrome creator unveiled Google+. It is the latest attempt to rectify Google's biggest and most pressing Achilles heel: social networking. Previous attempts have ranged from the unappealing to the outright offensive, but this time it seems Google is no longer dabbling, it has jumped in with both feet and will stake a significant portion of its future against it.

The official announcement itself was a radical departure for Google. "Among the most basic of human needs is the need to connect with others. With a smile, a laugh, a whisper or a cheer, we connect with others every single day," said Google engineering senior VP Vic Gundotra. The language was a million miles from the mathematical, almost surgical precision with which Google is famed. It was speaking with emotion about emotion.

"Today, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools," continued Gundotra, sticking to her humanist theme. "In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it. We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project."

It was a good start. As Facebook and Twitter users will tell you, social networking isn't built around coding genius or speed optimisations, it is something less quantifiable, something of a dark art that has sent Google's white coated lab geeks running in terror: community. Suddenly Google can't stop talking enough about it.

Google+ is built around community or, to be more precise, Circles – social groups each easily customisable to help you categorise by friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues or anything you like. The aim for Google+ is to reduce the 'public performance' nature of social networking updates and make them more personal and more relevant to your different circles, to return a sense of intimacy to cynical Facebookers with hundreds, sometimes even thousands of 'friends'.

Aside from Circles, Google+ has three other key pitches: 'Sparks', 'Hangouts' and 'Mobile'. Again you'll notice the informality of these names and the totally… like… kinda… you know… pseudo stream-of-conscious language in their promotional videos. They shout: old insensitive Google be gone! In truth all three are fairly simple.

Sparks is deemed to be about "striking up a conversation", but in reality it is just the integration of the +1 button (similar to Facebook's Like) and a vital part to learning about individual users and serving them up more personalised ads which is, after all, Google's lifeblood. Likewise Hangouts is glorified video messaging where groups can hangout and chat together. Finally you have mobile. With Google SVP of Mobile Andy Rubin tweeting (yes, we see the irony) on Tuesday that "over 500,000 Android devices [are] activated every day, and it's growing at 4.4% w/w [week on week]" the company is taking a stranglehold on the smartphone sector. Google has already released a Google+ Android app and it ties together Google functionality as well as folding in location check-ins and 'Huddle', a group instant messaging client which could do for Google what BlackBerry Messenger has done for RIM and what Apple hopes iMessage will do for it.

Still if you're feeling underwhelmed, that isn't surprising...

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