Microsoft's Best Answer to Google+ Might be Facebook

News Analysis: There's more than one way to enter the social networking market, and it looks like Microsoft is doing it by gradually expanding its alliance with Facebook.

The announcement by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on July 6 that Facebook will be launching a newvideo chat capability using Skype was interesting on several levels. Perhaps the most interesting is that it appears to be a quick turnaround reaction to Google+, a new social networking service launched the previous week.

Google+ has been described as "Facebook without the annoyances." And to some extent that's correct. On Facebook you either have people who are friends or have people who aren't friends and with whom you have no interaction unless you become friends. Of course, there are other options such as fan pages, etc. But the choices are pretty limited.

With Google+ (or G+ as it's being called now), you divide people you connect with into circles. You can use the premade circles such as "Friends" and "Acquaintances," or you can create circles with your choice of names. For example, I could create a circle called "eWEEK Editors" and then gather these people into that circle. The idea is that what you say to one circle stays there. Your acquaintances can't see what happens in your Friends circle.

This avoids the problem of prospective employers seeing what goes on inside your Friends circle. But the Google concept goes farther. You can follow people in much the same way you can on Twitter, and you will get to see whatever comments they have for public consumption. You can block people from following you, and you can converse with people in instant messages or with video chats. This is called Hanging Out, but it's really a multiuser video chat service. You can converse with up to 10 people at one time.

It's pretty clear that Facebook's big announcement of a connection to Skype was in response to Google's capability, and it's also clear that the Facebook team knows just what Google is doing with this. After all, Mark Zuckerberg and several other Facebook executives are members of G+. But this isn't the first connection between Facebook and Skype. Skype users have already been able to connect their Skype accounts to their Facebook Friends lists, and they've been able to instant message their Facebook friends from the Skype IM interface.

So now, once the capability is actually available to everyone, you'll be able to do video chats with Skype users. But even with this, G+ is already ahead. Skype through Facebook is a one-to-one connection. G+ is many-to-many. With Google Plus you can have a real group conversation.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...