Google launched Google+, its latest attempt to grab a piece of the social networking market, a couple of weeks ago. It’s still in limited release, so we won’t exactly understand all of the journalism implications here until Google+ is opened up to everyone.
The big complaint about Google+ so far is that it’s too similar to Facebook, but without all the people. The biggest draw has also been that “it’s not Facebook,” but the similar interface may turn out to be a strength if Google is aiming to squeeze out the market leader. (If you’re interested in the Google+ backstory, give Wired’s “Inside Google+” a read.) The interface is so familiar that even if you’re not exactly attuned to the lingo, you can start using Google+ right away. I don’t think there’s enough added functionality yet to get people to switch from Facebook, which has their photos, videos and, well, people already engaged. Google also made some really ill-fated social media moves with Buzz and Wave, so even enthusiastic adopters are a bit wary of getting on the bandwagon just yet. But, Google+ offers a few game-changing features out of the box.
First off, Google+ makes it easier to selectively share content. Facebook does have the functionality for users to broadcast a message to a limited group, but it’s clunky and limited, and few people bother to set it up. Circles allow for simpler, infinitely-targeted sharing. I have created Circles of friends, local friends, co-workers, journalists and comic/sci fi friends, just to name a few. So, if I wanted to share a story about journalism, I could just share it with my co-workers and journalists circles, and my comic/sci fi friends wouldn’t have it cluttering their stream. This targeting ability could have obviously huge implications for businesses and advertisers in the long run, some of which may bleed back into media outlets that provide content being shared.
Google has asked businesses and organizations, including news sites, to refrain from setting up profiles for the time being. They are running a trial and say they are creating a specific business profile. Once that rolls out, Google+ may be valuable to business journalists tracking companies like they do on other sites.
Google+ also offers a feature called Hangouts, a group chat with video integration. Facebook immediately countered this by partnering with Skype, which demonstrates what a potential game-changer it is. With a few more tweaks and full Google Docs integration, it could become the tool that Wave never was. If users were able to view the same slideshows and edit documents in real-time, Hangouts could become an industry leader for webinars and project collaboration.
Sparks is the third Google+ feature that could launch it into a leader. Sparks allows users to select their own interests, and Google+ serves up a feed of news and posts related to that interest. It’s similar to having all your topical Google Alerts integrated into your social network, a feature that search-engine-less Facebook could have a tough time emulating.
If you don’t have an invite yet, don’t fret, Google+ isn’t going anywhere in the next couple of months. If you can get in the door, here are a few helpful posts to get you started: