Today, Google announced Google+, a social sharing network that would compete directly with Facebook and Twitter to be the place where people share with friends online. But is there room for another social network, especially from a company that has failed to impress in the social media and sharing spaces in the past?
As with previous forays by Google into social media, the new network has begun as an invite-only service available to a select few, but its reach will expand in the coming weeks and months. It was preceded by the Google +1 button, though.
Google+’s key differentiator from Facebook and Twitter are its “Circles,” social sharing groups built into the network from the ground up.
Google suggested in its blog post about the new network that status updates and content sharing on social networks don’t work the way real people work. instead of sharing things with everyone we know, we more naturally share with targeted, focused groups. Hence Circles, which you can drag your friends into and name whatever you want. For example, you might have a “Family” circle and a “Friends” circle, or “Work Colleagues” and “Clubbing Friends” circles.
Other features include instant photo uploading from mobile devices, status updates that can optionally record your location, video conferencing rooms called “Hangouts,” and a group messaging system called “Huddle” that’s intended to make it easier to coordinate contacts text-messaging style.
Sparks: Google+’s Public News Feed
Of particular interest to you are “Sparks,” keyword-based news feeds similar to Twitter trending topics. Each member of Google+ can name as many keywords as he or she wants — for example, “Chicago concerts” or “Presidential debates” — and see a live stream of updates about the subject from Google+ users and the web.
If Google+ catches on with the public, Sparks could be another online venue for businesses, political campaigns, or other organizations that want to target people with certain interests or values. Google hasn’t fully revealed how these systems work yet, but you can be sure some strategies for reaching people who use Sparks will be more effective than others. We’ll fill you in as soon as we know.
The Verdict on Google+
It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with all the places people are congregating online, but skipping out isn’t an option. Social networks are already critically important for businesses and brands, and they’ll only become more so. As such, we should keep an eye on Google+’s progress.
That said, Google’s past forays into this space like Google Wave and Google Buzz have fallen flat, and Facebook is a colossal beast to challenge. Many consumers might not have any more mind space left after Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare — and as you know, businesses are already overwhelmed by the options.
As the service rolls out to more people in the coming weeks, we’ll all get a better sense of its relevance for businesses, brands, and other organizations, as well as for people’s personal lives.
Samuel Axon: Samuel is the Editorial Director supervising Sprout Social's editorial and web content projects. He has years of experience in blogging and social media, having previously worked as an editor at social media and technology news sites Mashable and Engadget. He also helped build the white label web content management system Crowd Fusion from the ground up.