When a limited number of beta testers were invited to sample the new Google+ pilot program on June 28, 2011, demand was so high that users began doling out invites to the highest bidder on eBay. Within 48 hours, Google was forced to temporarily suspend the invite feature due to the overwhelming demand.
Three weeks after it launched, Google+ had managed to wrangle up more than 10 million subscribers, shattering all previous records for attracting the most new users in the shortest period of time. As the fastest-growing social networking site to ever debut, Google+ is looking like it can offer some serious competition to the major networks.
Interestingly, early statistics indicated that more than three quarters of Google+ users were single men, with nearly 60 percent reporting they worked in the technology industry. To be fair, these were most likely the same guys who had been closely following the secret project unravel for the past year. As Internet chatter has swiftly spread throughout cyberspace, a more mainstream audience has been attracted to the new platform, which is something Google+ will need to excel at if it hopes to succeed this time around.
The Facebook Factor
In terms of subscribers and advertising dollars generated, Facebook offers Google+ the largest competition. In July 2011, Facebook’s membership swelled to 750 million subscribers. While the social networking site has a strong presence in North America, Australia and the UK, with businesses embracing it as a vital advertising tactic, nearly 70 percent of subscribers live outside the U.S.
Initially started as a way for university students to connect and swap photos, Facebook quickly grabbed the attention of social networking fans. When the website opened up membership to anyone ages 13 and up in 2006, the site experienced such rapid growth that within two years it overtook the hugely popular MySpace site as the preferred method for staying connected with friends and family.
Facebook generates revenue from placing highly-targeted advertising banners on a profile based on user-submitted data. Google operates in a similar manner, offering up ads based on browsing cookies. Both the proliferation of advertisements, as well as the violation of privacy, has left many subscribers questioning whether Facebook is the right site for them. Despite tightening privacy settings in recent months, in May 2011, Facebook reported that six million subscribers had closed their accounts.
Google+ Forges a New Path
In spite of its strong emphasis on social networking, Google+ is not just another venue for uploading photos and posting status updates. Instead, it has the potential to transform how the entire Google organization operates. Even if a person does not jump on the Google+ wagon, they will still be affected by some major changes because Elements of Google+ will be integrated into all the company’s products, including Gmail, Picassa and YouTube.
Soon, the Google+ Navigation Bar will be added to the Google search home page, where logged-in users can receive Facebook-like notifications and recommend websites, using the +1 icon, to their network. Google is currently working on a mobile app for the Android system and has announced plans to launch programs for other platforms, including a desktop application.
As a result, Google+ possesses the capability to dethrone Facebook as the leading social networking site. The company has learned from its previous failed attempts with Google Buzz and Wave, and it has a strong blueprint to follow from its competitors, to understand what works and what doesn’t. With enhancements such as targeted information sharing among specific groups, Google+ also has the power to improve how social networking is conducted.
Where Google+ Shines
Profile Layout: Despite its simplistic layout, the profile page offers some very cool features, such as a pin marked map of places the person has lived and quick-click links to YouTube, Google Reader, Twitter and more.
Circles: Supported by HTML5 animations, an efficient drag-and-drop feature allows contacts to be easily grouped into social Circles. Users then have options about who receives their broadcasted messages.
Hangouts: A potentially exciting option for telecommuting coworkers, far-flung family members and teens to connect, video chat rooms can accommodate up to 10 members.
Stream: Users can contribute and view content shared by friends, family and special interest groups. YouTube videos load quickly with the built-in launch button.
Sparks: Based on browsing history, Google+ offers highly-relevant suggestions for articles, photos and video users might enjoy. These recommendations, which are tailored to personal interests, can be easily shared with Circle members.
Photos: A modified version of Picasa pulls together all photos that have been uploaded by the user, as well as any tagged pictures. Each photo also includes all the comments that have been posted. Photo editing software is also provided.
The Features in Google+’s Future
After numerous delays, Google released its social networking site as a pilot project, explaining that features will be added and applications tweaked based on feedback received. Plans are underway to verify the identities of celebrities and other public figures, and procedures are being developed for business accounts. Google+ will likely have broader crossover appeal once it fully integrates its Cloud products, including Google Documents and Calendar.