Great read from the WSJ……..New social alternatives…….will it get traction…?
Google Inc. launched its most ambitious social-networking effort yet, broadening a battle with Facebook Inc. to grab the attention of Web users and future advertising dollars.
The new service, a top priority for new Google Chief Executive Larry Page, is aimed at exploiting what has been considered a weakness of Facebook—that by default people using Facebook share all their information with a big group of friends.
The new Google social network, called Google+, was released Tuesday in a “field trial period,” meaning it is an invitation-only product and will be available more broadly later.
The effort to create what became Google+ started in earnest in February 2010 after the Google social-networking service Google Buzz flopped with users, largely due to a backlash after it inadvertently made the email address books of users visible to other people. Last summer The Wall Street Journal reported Google was developing a new Facebook rival.
Google’s new social network promises to let users “share just the right things with just the right people.” Users are encouraged to create groups, or “circles” of contacts with which they share information, such as “your friends from Saturday night,” “your parents,” and “your boss in a circle by himself—just like in real life.”
Vic Gundotra, a Google senior vice president who has presided over the company’s social-networking initiatives since last year, said in an interview that “fundamentally we believe online sharing is broken.” He added that “we’re not going to nail it on our first attempt, but we’ll work as long as it takes.”
In the future, Google expects to make its social-networking service available to businesses that pay for Google Apps online software, said a person familiar with the matter.
Mr. Gundotra said Mr. Page was instrumental in the effort and was even responsible for some of the features, including the ability to “instantly” upload photos and videos people take on their Android-powered smartphones to a private online album that can be easily shared when they log in to Google+.
Mr. Gundotra and his colleague Brad Horowitz, who have about 600 Facebook friends and 2,000 Facebook friends, respectively, said they conducted “user research” to determine that having too many friends “greatly inhibits sharing” on Facebook.
“There’s almost nothing I can say to an audience that spans my sister-in-law, my rabbi, and a person I met at a conference yesterday,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Facebook over the past year has responded to such criticism and lets its users create “groups” with which they can share information without broadcasting it to all of their connections. On Tuesday a Facebook spokesman said: “We’re in the early days of making the Web more social, and there are opportunities for innovation everywhere.”
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More recent entrants into social networking, including Path Inc., have also focused on letting people share information with smaller groups of online friends.
In contrast to Facebook, Google+ lets users do video chats, much like a feature of its Gmail email service, but with a big upgrade: users can talk to and see many friends at once.
Part of the Google service, called Sparks, suggests articles to read and videos to watch based on what the service knows about users’ interests. Its Huddle feature lets users send text messages to several different people at once, a process known as group texting. Group-texting companies such as GroupMe Inc. have attracted thousands of users.
Google moves are in response to the rise of Facebook, messaging service Twitter Inc., location-sharing service Foursquare Inc. and other companies that have gotten people to publicly and privately share information on the Web. Those companies are redefining how people discover news articles or get advice on where to shop or travel.
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Facebook, with more than 600 million users world-wide, has obtained the most personal information about members and now has a multibillion-dollar advertising business that lets marketers target specific demographic groups or only people with certain interests.
Google has increasingly viewed Facebook as its next major rival in online advertising, and one of the aims of its social-networking efforts is to obtain similar data about users, rather than continuing to rely on information about them inferred from their Web searches, people familiar with the matter have said.
To that end, earlier this year Google launched a “+1” button to recommend useful search results or sites to friends, similar to Facebook’s “Like” button. In the future, people will be able to click on the +1 buttons to recommend sites with their Google+ contacts.
Facebook last year hired away a Google employee named Paul Adams, who had written a critical report on Facebook and its focus on letting users share information with “one group of friends,” in contrast with how people share information in real life. The report prompted speculation last summer that Google’s clandestine social-networking initiative would try to exploit Facebook’s perceived weakness.
Over the past year, numerous Silicon Valley figures have debated whether Google could succeed in social networking, with some arguing it wasn’t in the company’s “DNA.”
On Tuesday, Google+ was well-received in some corners of the Internet start-up world. “The whole idea that Google can’t do social networking is bogus,” said Jonathan Strauss, chief executive of Awe.sm, which tracks marketing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.
But Google still will have to persuade people and their real-world friends to use Google+ for sharing purposes. “A group has to agree that, ‘This is how we’re going to communicate with each other and share things with one another,”‘ said Charlene Li, a partner at Altimeter Group, a social-media advisory firm.
—Shayndi Raice contributed to this article.
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