LUSANDA FUTSHANE

 

If you’ve recently “liked”, “re-tweeted” or “hashtagged” anything on a cellphone or computer screen, chances are that pretty soon you will be “+1’ing” with just as much confidence. Just months ago, search giant Google rolled out its latest social networking project, Google Plus (often stylised as Google+), in an invite-only “field testing” stage. A month after its launch, it had 25 million registered users and is now officially one of the fastest-growing websites in history. However, take a quick look at the margins of most websites – a multitude of icons give internet surfers similar ways to share the content on a number of networking sites that already exist. Is there really enough space in the market for Google’s logo?

“Real-life sharing rethought for the web” is Google Plus’s slogan, but most people still don’t know what that means and why they should bother with yet another tool of cyber communication. Essentially, Google Plus is an amalgam of successful features from other social networking sites. It has the feel and ease-of-use of Facebook, it borrows video chatting from Skype, and promises the immediacy of Twitter. But its biggest advantage is its emphasis on privacy and intimacy – issues both Facebook and Twitter have wrestled with. Google Plus brings “Circles” and “Huddles” which allow you to organise your interactions by categorising the people you know (and don’t know, as is often the case) and choosing what to share with them. “In real life, we have walls and windows and I can speak to you knowing who’s in the room, but in the online world, you get to a ‘share’ box and you share with the whole world. We have a different model,” comments Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice-president for product management.

Google Plus has been met with a fair amount of scepticism, as is to be expected. Paul Tassi, blogger for Forbes.com, calls it “a vast and empty wasteland”, pointing out that the millions of people who have been part of the website’s early invite-only phase have not taken to the project as well as the numbers would suggest. Many others have spoken out similarly, pointing out Google’s past failures with Google Wave, Orkut and Google Buzz. “The fact is, very few people have room to manage multiple social networks,” Tassi said. “Its biggest flaw is simply something it can’t overcome. It’s not Facebook.”

Regardless, the extremely young contender powers on towards its as yet undisclosed final launch date, gradually rolling out new features as it goes along. Recently, celebrity profiles have started sporting verification badges and social gaming has been added into the interface. Android and iPhone users can even enjoy the pleasure of using Google Plus on the go with its mobile application. It’s not hard to imagine more and more people trolling for invites to join the “field testing” stage just out of curiosity.

One simply needs to recall the story of a humble micro-blogging site that threatened to unseat Facebook just two years ago in order to realise Google Plus’s potential. Originally criticised for being too simple, Twitter has now become a staple in the world of social networking. The New York Times has declared Plus as Google’s biggest attempt to rival Facebook. After creating such frenzy in only two months, Google Plus is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Image: googleplushelpforum.com

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