Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Google launches Google+, a quasi-Facebook competitor

 NEWYORK (CNNMoney) -- Google on Tuesday unveiled Google+, yet another attempt by the search giant to overcome its past miscues in the social networking space.

More people visit Google's network of websites than Facebook each month, but Facebook is killing the search company in categories that advertisers care most about: Time spent and pages viewed. Users spent 62% more time on Facebook than on Google last month, and viewed more than twice the number of pages on Facebook as they did on Google, according to comScore.

Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) latest solution to this growing trend is Google+, a new social network that tries to out-Facebook Facebook. On Facebook, people are either "friends" or not. Google+ makes that distinction more fluid, letting users group their contacts into smaller categories, such as relatives, co-workers, or members of a yoga class. Information can be shared selectively with each group.

"The subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools," said Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of social, in a blog post. "In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it."

Google+ features several components that attempt to mimic natural human interaction. For instance, to simulate sitting out on your front porch, one feature allows users to declare that they're "hanging out" and interested in video chatting if a select group of people are around. Another lets users chat with a particular set of people -- say, before they all meet at a concert.

Google often denies that Facebook is the company's primary competitor, and Gundotra said Google+ was "not a reaction to Facebook." Yet sources with knowledge of the project say that Google+ was known internally as "Googbook." Google devoted 300 people to the team.

Unlike Google's previous social attempts, such Orkut and Buzz -- which had big, bold launches and are largely considered failures -- Google is moving slowly and cautiously with Google+. It has only been launched for a small group of users, and others need to be invited to the service to use it.

Google also doesn't consider Google+ to be a separate product, exactly. Rather, the company says it is an extension of things you can already do on Google. A toolbar will be available atop all Google sites, and users can download an Android or Chrome application to get notifications and share content.

For instance, a user could be in Google Maps, and share directions with a group. Search results, documents, even advertisements could be shared using Google+.

Google's social puzzle pieces

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