Plus one more social network. What's different?

The word is out and the word is good. Apart from a scathing review or two, the majority of the hard to please tech punditry who have tried out Google plus seem to be reasonably impressed. There has been much talk about its easy to use features, the way it handles privacy concerns and how the experience is fairly seamless.

But why do we need another social networking site? Why would we use plus? And of course how do we get it?

From Google

In a nutshell, Yes. Google Plus IS another social networking site. But unlike Facebook and Twitter (and a lot of their imitators), Google plus is about small groups rather than large networks.

It is meant to be a much more intimate platform than either Facebook or Twitter and it ensures this via its 'circles' feature. 'Circles' allows you to drag and drop contacts from your gmail list into (virtually) real circles. This makes it easy to send messages between groups of people and decide what content you want to share with each group.

A smart feature for those of you tired of having that person-you-added-on-Facebook-after-you-met-them-once-because-they-added-you-and-it-seemed-rude-to-refuse, constantly commenting on your photos and status updates.

Of course it IS possible to limit access to certain undesirable groups of people on Facebook, but it is time consuming and complicated. (And no you can't always block them because they're probably related to you). 'Circles' does involve manual dragging and dropping of contacts into groups, but since you have to do it right at the outset it's less painful than having to go into an already large friends list and deciding what access to give whom.

 

“With Facebook I have 500 friends — my mom’s my friend, my boss is my friend,” said  Shimrit Ben-Yair, the product manager in charge of the social graph in an interview withWired. “So when I share on Facebook, I overshare. On Twitter, I undershare, because it’s public. If Google hits that spot in the middle, we can revolutionize social interaction.”

A second interesting feature that Plus has (and Facebook doesn't) is 'Hangouts' - a video chat feature that allows up to ten people to participate in a conversation. Coupled with Google's free calls service, this could be , as Om Malik rightly points out, a bigger threat to Skype than Facebook.  Other features include a lot of 'wait this is familiar' programs: A home stream similar to Facebook, An 'instant upload' feature for photographs taken with your phone... What is different however, is that Google integrates its search capability into the home stream. Known as 'Sparks", according to Google, "It  delivers a feed of highly contagious content from across the Internet. On any topic you want, in over 40 languages. Simply add your interests, and you’ll always have something to watch, read and share—with just the right circle of friends." In concept this sounds pretty amazing, but will it inspire someone to move from Facebook? Unlikely. Will it inspire someone to spend as much time on it? Possibly.

The fact remains that Google has been trying to get into the social networking space for some time now. Earlier attempts like Buzz and Wave were heralded in with as much fanfare as Plus, but never really caught on. Right now invitations to try the service are limited, and the success or failure of this effort can only be judged when people begin to use it. (We don't have an invite ourselves but you can express your interest for one here) It remains to be seen how many people are tired of 'over sharing' on Facebook and yearn for a change. Or how many of them will give plus as much importance as they give Facebook.

According to Steven Levy from Wired, The inability of Google+ users to instantly import their Facebook connections underlies the biggest immediate challenge to the product so far. "Like all social networks, its value is directly related to the degree that one’s friends and contacts are also participating. Beginning a social network is always a huge risk because of the chicken-and-egg problem — the whole thing doesn’t work unless a user’s friends and contacts are on board. Otherwise the place risks becoming an “Emptytown” where people try it, are unable to connect with anyone and then forget about it."

Watch a demo video of Plus: