Google+ Facebook Rival Pushes Private Sharing

Google+ pokes its head out of the search engine's social software cave, offering users an alternative to Facebook that focuses on more nuanced social sharing.

Targeting the world's leading social network where it stumbles most, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) June 28 unveiled its Google+ project, the company's long-rumored social network intended to take back some of the swagger it lost to Facebook online in the last few years.

Facebook has racked up some 700 million users in six-plus years, allowing users to post photos, videos and status updates to share with friends. The service began as a walled garden where little data got out once it was added, but the company has recently allowed third-party Websites to connect with the site via Like buttons and other social plugins.

Facebook has endured a handful of privacy black eyes along the way, starting with the failed Beacon ad campaign in 2007 and most recently adding facial-recognition software without reminding users that it was coming.

Seizing on the market leader's seemingly cavalier attitude toward user privacy, Google envisions Google+ as a more nuanced approach to social networking. The service endeavors to give users complete control over what content they share online and with whom they share it.

Available to users by invitation only for now, Google+ comprises four major components: Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and mobile, which includes instant photo and video uploads and group messaging.

Circles is a sharing service that lets users add circles, or groups of users united by common interests by dragging and dropping their profiles in a circle. Circles could include family, friends and colleagues.

"Not all relationships are created equal. So in life we share one thing with college buddies, another with parents, and almost nothing with our boss," Vic Gundotra, Google senior vice president of engineering, explained in a blog post.

Gundotra, tapped by Google's upper management to head Google+ when it became apparent Facebook was taking ownership of the social sector, added a thinly veiled swipe at cross-town rival Facebook. "The problem is that today's online services turn friendship into fast food-wrapping everyone in 'friend' paper-and sharing really suffers."

Facebook's premise assumes that a user wants to share with all of their connections, but what's good for friends to read or see may not be good for bosses to read or see. The company added Facebook Groups last year to address this issue.

Sparks enables users to start conversations online with other users around certain topics, such as restaurants, cooking or sports. Google+ users will add their interests to gain access to content regarding relevant topics in the future.

Google+ Hangouts enable users to connect from their computers via multiuser video. Users may simply click to join a Hangout.

Mobile may be the most crucial information-sharing aspect of Google+. The tool leverages smartphone GPS, cameras and messaging to improve connections between users. Specifically, users may choose to include their location with any status updates.

Another feature that follows the Facebook pattern is Instant Upload. It apes existing mobile applications that push information quickly to Facebook, and lets Google+ users add pictures and videos they shoot from their smartphone to a private photo album in Google's cloud.

Finally, Huddle is a group-messaging application that lets users make plans with everyone in their circle.

The Google+ mobile application is available on Android Market. eWEEK was able to install it to an Android smartphone. However, when eWEEK tried to access the application, we were told, "Google+ is still in active development and not yet available to everyone. You need an invitation to sign in. Please check back later."

eWEEK did receive an application form to take the Google+ field test, which allows up to 15 participants. Please check back for this ongoing coverage.

Google is not going to "catch" Facebook by any means, but it does have 1 billion regular searchers. If it can convince even a couple hundred million of those users to spend time sharing on Google+, it will give the search engine a nice ramp to the social advertising it so desires to pad its massive online-ad arsenal.

At worst, Google+ may join Google Buzz in its sea of social anonymity, relegated to Google fans and/or niche users.