Google’s latest foray into social networking, Google +, looks promising. Google may have finally come up with a compelling alternative to its social networking arch nemesis, Facebook. Previous attempts by Google to enter the social networking space, such as Google Wave and Google Buzz, were easily crushed by the Facebook juggernaut.
Google + has many cool features, but its most compelling feature, to me at least, is its contacts management system. Google + allows users to group contacts into “Circles”. These Circles are similar to the idea of Facebook friend lists, but are much more sophisticated.
Essentially, each Circle creates a virtual “wall”. When you share something with a particular Circle, the post appears on the “wall” associated with that Circle only. Friends in other Circles cannot see it. This allows you to compartmentalize the stuff you share.
You can now share photos of your latest vacation in Cancun without wondering whether or not it would be appropriate for your co-workers to see those photos. Just create two mutually exclusive Circles of contacts, one for your co-workers and one for friends, and share the content with your friends only. There are many other cool features in Google +. You can check out Google’s interactive demo of the product for more details.
My only beef with Google + is its release strategy. First, Google sent out invitations to a small number of select celebrities and tech industry insiders. Presumably, these first adopters were chosen for their large social circles and their influence in the hope that they would generate positive buzz for the new product.
These insiders were given the ability to invite whomever they wanted to the service. However, this ability was later revoked due to “insane demand” — which translates to, essentially, “we do not have enough servers deployed”.
Whatever the reasons, a large portion of the web’s population is now locked out of Google +. Driving up anticipation by creating the illusion of exclusivity is great up to a point, but the very nature of social networking works against the idea of exclusivity.
Social networks work best when your friends are on them, and by lengthening the period of time during which access is limited to Google +, Google risks making the average Internet user lose interest in the new service.
Facebook already fulfills most social networking needs, and if Google + is to succeed in luring users away from Facebook, it needs to act quickly. Creating a solid product is the first step — which they seem to have done — getting people interested in that product is the second and, arguably, more important step.
Google needs to get those additional servers online ASAP so that the urge to try out the new service does not get dampened by a long waiting period. It is important to take advantage of the buzz currently being generated on Twitter, Facebook and blogs — Google should strike while the iron is hot.
Hopefully, when Google + becomes open to the general public, we will finally have a viable alternative to Facebook. This new source of competition will drive innovation in both camps. Already, Facebook has announced that something “awesome” is going to be revealed next week. Healthy competition will benefit all parties involved.