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Google Enters the Ring for Social Smackdown, Round 2

Google Enters the Ring for Social Smackdown, Round 2

Last year, Google took a swipe at the social networking scene by launching Buzz, which was quickly burned to a crisp by critics who blasted its apparently lax privacy protections. Now the search engine leader has returned with Google+, its latest attempt to break into the social scene. Challenging a rival the size of Facebook will be difficult, but Google's size and existing infrastructure may prove useful.

By Rachelle Dragani
06/29/11 10:07 AM PT

Google took a second stab at social networking Tuesday with the launch of Google+, a program designed to interactively connect users and challenge worldwide social networking king Facebook.

The search engine giant failed with its first attempt at an online social network, last year's Google Buzz, which encountered difficulties in cracking the crowded social scene and was sharply criticized for what some users saw as a lack of privacy safeguards.

Google is hopeful that this time around it'll be able to take a bigger step into the social networking marketplace.

"We learned a lot from Buzz, and we decided to take a step back and start from scratch. The Google+ project is just the beginning - we want to bring real-life sharing to the web in a radically different way," said a Google spokesperson in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by Katie Watson, senior manager of global communication and public affairs at Google.

New Features

Google+ is rolling out with an interface similar to that of Facebook, offering users the opportunity to upload pictures and video and making sure every feature offered during the launch is easily accessible with a mobile platform.

Perhaps one of its more interesting feature is +Hangouts, an interactive video feature that would let users chat with multiple people at the same time, coming and going as users please. The feature, however, has raised some concern -- there are worries it's a concept that hasn't quite caught on and never will, though others call it a hot innovation for a younger, tech-savvy generation.

Can It Work?

One way Google+ could separate itself from competition is its emphasis on separating groups. A common quibble users have with Facebook is its re-definition of the word "friend" -- the site is set up so that true friends, co-workers, family members and mere acquaintances are lumped under the same, simple "friend" label.

With Google+, however, users can divvy up different groups of friends using the +Circles feature. For instance, in one Circle, a user could post a video of a new baby to a group of family members, then send an intriguing work-related article to a Circle of colleagues without having to muddle personal and professional lives.

Many other online social networks categorize all a user's contacts as "friends," which tends to make it more difficult to share information, according to Google.

The amount of control users have over the information they send out is priceless for users, Google says, especially in a tech scene where the consequences of oversharing have begun to set in and privacy is a growing concern.

"Because Google+ is centered around you, we've tried to give users more ways to stay private or go public and offer more meaningful choices around their friends and their data," said the Google spokesperson.

Another way Google could gain a loyal following is with a commitment to hyper-localizing the social scene. Applications from Google such as Google Maps and restaurant finders help tune in Google to every corner of the globe, a direction in which the social networking trend is moving.

"Social is starting to move more local and mobile, and that can be a competitive advantage for [Google] over Facebook," Rory Maher, an analyst at Hudson Square, told TechNewsWorld.

Unlike Facebook or other networks, Google already has an entire mobile infrastructure built with its Android network, where it has a majority share in mobile platforms.

Still, it will likely be difficult for everyone, Google included, to compete with Facebook or even a niche competitor like LinkedIn. Hurdles such as convincing users to add another network to their routine could be tough to overcome.

"It's going to be challenging, but if anyone can do it, Google is probably the best in terms of their brand and their reach," Maher said.


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