Google gets social again with Google+

The search giant's latest effort against Facebook is Google+, a social network with strong mobile leanings that incorporates video chat, instant messaging and content recommendations

Google has unveiled its latest attempt at social networking, a mobile-leaning project called Google+.

Google Plus

Google has unveiled its Google+ social network, which incorporates a range of features including 'Circles', 'Huddle' and 'Sparks'. Screenshot: Don Reisinger/CNET News/Google

Currently in private trial phase, Google+ emphasises the ability to interact differently with separate 'Circles' of friends. It includes a sharing engine called Sparks, a many-user videoconferencing platform called Hangouts, a group messaging service called Huddle, and a cloud-based photo album service with instant mobile-upload capabilities.

"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. In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it," Google engineering chief Vic Gundotra said in a blog post on Tuesday.

The Circles feature is reminiscent of the ability on Facebook to segment friends into groups. However, Gondutra indicated that Google has an issue with the word 'friend' being applied to every contact, as this turns "friendship into fast food".

People in fact share selectively all the time — with their circles. So we did the only thing that made sense: we brought Circles to software.

- Vic Gundotra, Google

"People in fact share selectively all the time — with their circles," Gondutra wrote. "From close family to foodies, we found that people already use real-life circles to express themselves, and to share with precisely the right folks. So we did the only thing that made sense: we brought Circles to software. Just make a circle, add your people and share what's new."

There is an Android Google+ app, though only people in the limited beta can sign in to it. The company told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that an iPhone app will follow soon, although a web app version is available now.

The social network has a strong overall mobile focus. Location data can be added to every post, and users can see which posts have been uploaded nearby.

In addition, the instant upload feature, which uploads newly taken photos by default, is intended for smartphone use. The ability to fuse multiple conversations into a unified Huddle thread is also exclusive to the Google+ mobile app.

The Sparks engine asks people to select their interests, then uses those choices to let them find and share recommended sites and content. As Google put it on the Google+ information page: "Remember when your Grandpa used to cut articles out of the paper and send them to you? That was nice. That's kind of what Sparks does."

Taking on Facebook

Google has made multiple attempts to take on Facebook — which is also trying to become web users' first port of call — in its core territory of social networking. The company's Orkut social network is a big hit in a few countries, such as Brazil. However, it has had failures in social networking, with flops such as Wave — which started in 2009 and was killed in 2010 — and Buzz, which is best known for causing outrage over its permissive privacy settings.

According to Declan McCullagh of ZDNet UK's sister site CNET News, Google seems to have taken care to consider privacy in its default Google+ security settings, as "much more thought and testing went into this launch than Google Buzz".

"Google+ has, by my count, 13 privacy settings, each with an average of a sentence or two of text to explain them. There's another page if you want to edit individual items. Facebook has far more complicated privacy options (in part because of Facebook apps) that are more difficult to navigate," McCullagh wrote.

While Google+ is open right now only to a small number of users, people who want to try it can sign up on the project site to be notified when places are available.


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