What is Google+?

At the end of June 2011, Google launched ‘The Google+ Project’ social networking platform. Google’s previous two attempts at social networking (Google Wave and Google Buzz) failed to catch fire, but it looks like its third attempt (still in beta) might be both a winner and a potential Facebook killer.

Google seems to believe that Facebook has some shortcomings that they can fix by launching their own version that makes takes existing Google products social. The company certainly has a lot to work with, including Picasa, Gmail and Google Maps. Information and functions from all of these will be integrated into the Google+ experience so that you don’t have to sign into different services to share your photos and let your friends and family know what you’re up to.

Should Facebook and Zuckerberg be worried or will Google+ be the latest chapter of social networking fails by Google?

Stream

Each Google+ profile centers around the Stream, which is essentially the same thing as Facebook’s news feed and looks quite similar. The stream wrangles up all of your info and updates from your contacts and is constantly updated. The Stream will be joined by five core elements – Circles, Photos, Hangouts, Huddle and Sparks.

Circles

Google+ tries to make sharing online more like sharing in real life. In real life, you want to tell you friends what you did on Saturday night, but you don’t necessarily want your parents and co-workers viewing the details . You can keep your conversations separate by putting your contacts into ‘circles’ such as ‘Work’, ‘Friends’ and ‘Parents’. When you sort your friends, acquaintances and other contacts into Circles, no one else knows how they’ve been grouped. Google will show other Google+ users who you’ve put into your Circles, as well as who has put you into their Circles, but it won’t reveal how you’ve characterized those Circles and how they’re titled.

Photos

Google+ uses ‘Instant Upload’ to free your photos and videos from being trapped on your mobile device and automatically uploads them to a private album on Google+. All you have to do is decide who to share them with.

Hangouts

With Hangouts, you can let your specific contacts (or entire circles) know you’re hanging out and then see who virtually drops by for a face-to-face-to-face video chat. It’s basically video calling, but you can include more than two people in each chat.

Huddle

When you are trying to arrange an informal event with some friends by having several different text conversations with a number of friends, it can become long-winded and confusing. The idea behind Huddle is that you can turn all these exchanges into one big group chat to save you time. This certainly has the potential to be a very useful addition to the Google+ mobile offering.

Sparks

Sparks help you get stuff you are interested in fed to you on a regular basis. This feature reminds me a bit of Squidoo’s lenses. Basically, Sparks will send you stuff you’re interested in, so you don’t have to find it yourself.

Summary

Google+ looks good and the new features, especially circles, could just make the difference between it being a Facebook killer or another Google social networking failure. Whether Google+ is better than Facebook might not be as important as the question do we really need another social network, even if it gives us more control over how and what we share.

I’m seeing quite a few of the early adopters and techies I know on Google+ already, but getting regular Facebook users to make the switch isn’t going to be easy. Google+ just might have a chance to take a swing at Facebook with strong ties to Android mobile devices and being the new kid on the block. The history of social networking already has its ghost towns of Friendster and MySpace, but competition is a good thing and I hope Facebook’s monopoly will end.