Google has been dominant in the search engine business for many years. However, getting in the social media business proved tricky. With Google Buzz, Wave to a certain extent, and Orkut failing to go in the planned direction, Google had no product to counter the successful and growing social network, Facebook.
Google though wouldn’t keep quiet. Since the last one year, it has been working on a super-secret project. First rumours began surfacing in March this year about something called Google Circles. Google was quick to kill the story and then ‘Google+’ was unveiled as beta to a limited number of users on June 28, 2011.
Google downplayed the launch, but it wasn’t long before the aforementioned social network had people talking, sharing, liking and tweeting about the new guy in town. Google even went on record to say that they made + because people hated Facebook. Nonetheless, Google+ had some special help from none other than Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg. According to the latest stats, Zuckerberg has nearly 35,000 people following his updates on the service.
Why is that important? Well, Zukerberg is on a platform which will be, if not yet, Facebook’s biggest competitor in more ways than one. Friends are core to Facebook, while the same holds true for Google+ as well. Google though has taken it one step forward by calling it ‘Circles’. It’s through Circles that users select and organise contacts into groups for optimal sharing. It’s far more intuitive than Facebook groups and even pips the latter in ease of use.
While Google+ Circles is already making headway in social networking circles, there are many more features that Google+ has showcased, which are either innovative or a better version of an existing service either by Google or a third party. Sparks, for instance, combines Google Reader and social bookmarking websites, making it easier for users to share content they like, with the people they like, aka Circles. Another big feature of Google+ is the toolbar that exists across the top of all Google sites. Once the Circles are set, sharing with any of them from any Google site is simple thanks to this toolbar.
Google has made it amply clear that features in Google+ are just the tip of the iceberg. The project is bigger than just social networking. It is an extension of Google itself and naturally, will include, integrate, combine existing Google properties into a single massive system powered by the need of people to find and share.
I remember Google being voted as one of the most trusted brands in the world since 2007. Two important aspects which I feel made this brand a great success in the web space are: operational excellence and product leadership. Out of these, product leadership is what makes Google an excellent brand and has helped Google stay ahead of the competition with market dominant products.
However, it has not always been hunky dory for the brand. Google received flak for Google Buzz for automatically bundling up user e-mail identities for the network. Google entered into a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission in March 2011 over charges on deceptive privacy practices. That, perhaps, explains more filters in Google+ than even in Facebook.
It’s too early to tell if Google+ will be a success, but going by the man hours put in the project and the promise of a better web experience, Google+ will be the most watched service by pundits and users alike. However, one thing is for sure, a war has begun. It was recently reported that a group of Facebook engineers hacked into Google Circles, a feature of Google + to organise one’s friends, and brought it into Facebook, calling it the Circles Hack, completely changing the way you can organise your friends on Facebook.
The question however is, will Google + break the ice again?
(Yashraj Vakil is COO of Red Digital and has over 11 years of cross-functional experience in the interactive entertainment domain. Over the years, he has worked with various organisations such as Procter & Gamble, Lowe, Jump Games from Reliance ADAG - Big Entertainment, and Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd from Reliance ADAG - Big Entertainment, wherein he has built strategies, set up business and formed alliances which have yielded great results.)