Jun 30, 2011

Google launches Plus to take on Facebook

The battle for the eyeballs of social media network users is intensifying, with Google launching a demo version of 'Google+' (called Google Plus), the search engine giant's renewed attempt to take on Facebook in the social networking arena.

“This is just the beginning...We're just getting warmed up...launching what we call a field trial period, an invitation-only approach to help smooth out the rough edges,” said an official Google post on the demo site.

While designing the new service, Google has kept in mind social circles, called plus circles, and a Twitter-inspired feature that resembles real-life social interactions. It allows users to selectively share information with specific groups within defined circles, rather than sharing it with all their social connections at once. One can create as many circles as one wishes to, for whatever categories one wants, adding friends and contacts simply by clicking and dragging names onto various circles.

Google is also featuring a web conferencing option, in which up to 10 people can join in simultaneously. A feature called Sparks would provide users with web content on various topics like sports or fashion, allowing the user to subscribe to categories of interest, create custom categories, and share content with friends. Google would also release Google Plus mobile apps for Android smart phones and iPhones. This would include special features like cloud-based photo storage and group messaging. With its instant upload feature, one's photos and videos automatically upload themselves to a private album on Google+. Its 'Huddle' feature turns different conversations into a group chat.

Google, however, has its work cut out. Facebook leads the global social media networking pack, with nearly 750 million users (including 500 million active users), followed by LinkedIn (around 100 million), Twitter (around 75 million), the 100-odd million Orkut (Brazil and India accounting for most users) and MySpace, with 30 million-odd users.

Google's earlier attempts saw feeble success in the social networking space. It could not create a 'Wave', generate a 'Buzz' or make 'Orkut' grab eyeballs in markets outside Brazil and India. Even in India, Orkut has been steadily losing marketshare to Facebook. Compared with against Facebook's 31 million users, Orkut has around 18 million. Various Google social products —Orkut, Lively, Google Friend Connect, Wave and Buzz—just haven't caught on, say social media experts.

Last February, Gmail users impulsively clicked on Google Buzz. Where else could one get such a massive installed base with a single click? By building Buzz directly into Gmail, the service had an instant audience of nearly 180 million users.

Similar to Google+, Buzz was said to be a stream of status updates, pictures, links and videos from friends. One could 'like' these and comment on them. If one used Flickr, Picasa, Google Reader or Twitter, you could automatically import these into one's stream. Buzz also recommended items one might like, based on the activities of one's friends. However, Google was reprimanded for abusing the privacy of individuals by pushing-in Buzz to all its users, after which it had to backtrack. Today, there's hardly any buzz about the product.

With close to 4,000 Twitter mentions every minute (Twirus data), Google +1 was a hot topic of discussion on the microblogging site. Blogger Vikram Pandit wrote, “We'll see how it plays out when the users begin flooding in, but +1 isn't really as fun or as social as Facebook's or Twitter's various web-consuming widgets.” Another Twitter user, Sameer Garde, said, “If this is how Google wants to take on Facebook's social reach, then it's going to be an interesting fight to watch.” Facebook user Meena Raheja expressed her opinion as a status update, “Don't find Google Plus One intuitively appealing, at least just yet. Will stay with FB (Facebook) till the jury's out.”

The jury, however, spoke in a mixed voice, saying it was too early to be sure. Chris George, chief executive, EBS Worldwide, said, “Before marketers start thinking about leveraging Google+ as a new alternative to FB, it would be important to see how it works with the users. At the face of it, Google+ offers an interesting methodology to organize your social media friends and acquaintances (around what they call circles). But Google also has a history of great ideas that haven't really fired up users.”

Navin Chandani, managing director, Experian Marketing Services, says, “Globally, the convergence of search marketing and social marketing is a growing trend and the new feature from Google is a step in that direction. Social media allows consumers to secure 'peer' or 'friend' level recommendations, and search engines allow consumers to find information, products and services.” According to Experian Hitwise Clickstream data, search engines contribute 38 per cent, while social media websites contribute about 10 per cent of the traffic to over 200,000 websites tracked by the company in India. “A social marketing feature on a search engine is definitely not something a marketer can ignore,” says Chandani.

Games2win sees the +1 button as a welcome change. India chief executive Alok Kejriwal says, “Online games are highly 'searched' by lots of consumers on search engines and we are delighted to have the +1 button implemented on our site. It immediately allows content to bubble up and be seen by friends on the Google network.” He insists the Facebook 'Like' button works in collusion with +1 and not in seclusion. “To me, an FB like/comment is a 'viral push', +1 is a 'viral pull',” he says.

Nevertheless, Google, the $29-billion search engine giant, garners negligible revenue from the enterprise space, compared to its phenomenal success with web advertising, which accounts for almost 96 per cent of its total revenue. A successful social networking site would only add to its web advertising prowess.

Google to revamp home page
Google is working on a project to introduce a new and improved Google experience. Over the next few months, the search engine says users would continue to see more updates on its look and feel. Its homepage, too, would get a makeover. Google has also created a ‘What do you love’? (http://www.wdyl.com/#) page. For instance, if you type the word ‘nature’, it throws up a host of neatly-packaged information under different subheads. The synergy with Google+ is evident.

This article from Business Standard


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