By now, some of you have no doubt heard about Google’s answer to Facebook: Google+. The service is currently in an invite-only beta stage—just like Gmail once was—so most curious folks will have to make do with Google’s blog post and the official preview site (through which one can register for a chance to be invited… eventually). For those among us with short attention spans, the video below roughly sums up what Google+ is all about:
Where Facebook keeps social interactions fairly straightforward, Google+ looks to be more elaborate. Users will have to learn about Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Huddles, and other features that make Google+ somewhat bolder than just a copycat service. Google already has an Android app all cooked up and ready to go, and it says an iOS version is "coming soon," so mobile access is also part of the picture from the get-go.
Clearly, Google has its work cut out if it wants to pry users away from Facebook. That must be why, as AppleInsider reports, the company enlisted the help of Andy Hertzfeld, one of the user-interface designers for the original Macintosh 128K. Hertzfeld is lead designer of the Google+ project, and he reportedly imbued the service with a more colorful and animated design than one might expect from a Google service. Hopefully, the oversight of a former Apple designer will mean a decent amount of intuitiveness, as well.
In addition to pushing the envelope on the UI front, Google may be trying to appeal to users frightened by the privacy implications of signing up for Facebook. According to the New York Times, Google+ emphasizes groups, allowing users to share and communicate different information with different people. Google’s Vic Gundotra told the Times, "In real life, we have walls and windows and I can speak to you knowing who’s in the room, but in the online world, you get to a ‘Share’ box and you share with the whole world. . . . We have a different model."
Without beta access to the service, I can’t really tell how appealing Google+ will be—not just to Facebook holdouts, but also the hundreds of millions of users who already have Facebook accounts. I’m guessing the sheer convenience such an extensive user base brings to the table will be hard to beat for Google. However, the Times says analysts think people might find themselves using Facebook and Google+ for different things. Perhaps we’ll one day coordinate dinner meetups through Google+ and talk to our grandparents through Facebook… unless, that is, Facebook decides its turn has come to play copycat.