Google has introduced its latest social networking site in an aim to steal users away from Facebook.
After interest in Wave and Buzz rose and fell, the internet giant has now launched Google+, calling it ‘real-life sharing and rethought for the web'. Google+ focuses on not sharing everything with everyone in +Circles, discussion areas in +Sparks and +Hangouts and a specific mobile site in +Mobile.
According to Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering at Google, Google+ is available via the Android market and will soon be on the Apple App Store and much like Wave, users will need to receive an invitation to join it.
Gundotra said: “We're beginning in field trial so you may find some rough edges, but online sharing needs a serious re-think, so it's time we got started. There's just one more thing, really the only thing: you.
“We realise that Google+ is a different kind of project, requiring a different kind of focus, on you. That's why we're giving you more ways to stay private or go public; more meaningful choices around your friends and your data and more ways to let us know how we're doing.”
The +Circles function is focused on sharing ‘what matters, with the people who matter most'.
Gundotra said: “It's sloppy: we only want to connect with certain people at certain times, but online we hear from everyone all the time. It's scary: every online conversation (with over 100 ‘friends') is a public performance, so we often share less because of stage fright. It's insensitive: we all define ‘friend' and ‘family' differently, in our own way, on our own terms but we lose this nuance online.
“In light of these shortcomings we asked ourselves, ‘what do people actually do' and we didn't have to search far for the answer. People in fact share selectively all the time, with their circles. From close family to foodies, we found that people already use real-life circles to express themselves and to share with precisely the right folks.
“So we did the only thing that made sense: we brought Circles to software. Just make a circle, add your people and share what's new, just like any other day.”
Google said that +Sparks ‘delivers a feed of highly contagious content from across the internet', with a user selecting a topic and they will have something to watch, read and share with the right circle of friends.
In the +Mobile solution, it has focused on GPS, cameras and messaging, with users able to add a location to every post. ‘Instant Upload' will add a user's photos to a cloud-based private album with a user's permission, while ‘Huddle' is a private group instant messaging solution.
Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, said: “I think that security is a must and that many problems we find nowadays are because security was not taken into account. But any business, even more if we're talking about a social network, needs users. The more the better.
“Sometimes (more than we want to accept), security is a pain for users. Talking about social networks, we want to interact with people, meet actual friends, new ones, share personal information, the simpler the better. The major problem I've seen in other social networks is when new privacy options are defined and activated in ‘share mode' by default. Any new option to share personal information should be deactivated by default.
“Google is able to do the best (search engine, Gmail, Android) and the worst (Wave, Buzz). If someone can come up with a Facebook competitor, that is Google. Anyway, if Google+ wants to be a success, they only need to add a ‘thumbs down' or ‘unlike' option.”
Paul Ducklin, head of technology for Sophos Asia Pacific, noted its closed beta status and said that it is reasonable to assume Google will be much more cautious on the privacy front this time around, following the legal issues around Buzz.
He said: “If you're interested in Google+, you should probably start getting ready now for its public launch by reading (or re-reading) Google's policies on privacy. There are several.
“There are Google's terms. These are still dated 2007, so they still impose the same conditions, such as: only using Google's user interface to get at Google stuff; permitting Google to update its software on your computer when it wants; agreeing to accept said updates; and allowing Google to watch what you do to send you targeted advertising.
“You'd better read the Picasa Privacy Notice, too, in case you ever upload a photo. And that is supposed to happen automatically and instantly every time you snap a picture on your phone. Actually, to save searching time, you can use the Google Privacy Center to dig into all 37 of Google's privacy policies, from +1 (like Like, it really means Recommend) through to YouTube."
He said that the good news is that users still have time to give feedback on any of the Google+ terms and conditions that they find unpalatable and recommended users raise issue with any privacy concerns.
“Last year, 90 per cent of you who took part in our poll said you wanted Facebook to become completely opt-in. If you'd like to see Google outdo Facebook by adopting an entirely opt-in model, where all features are off until you explicitly turn each and every one on, then this would be a good time to say so,” he said.