You might have noticed your friends' mugshots popping up on your Gmail page of late and a black strip over the Google search page. These are subtle signs of Google rolling out a new social networking product, the search giant's answer to Facebook at last.
Google+, which the company released selectively on Tuesday, is meant to be more private, smarter, and at the same time more pervasive than other social networking sites. It could also be integrated with your mail, search and news functions.
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Google said it is all kosher - just a nice way to be in touch. "With a smile, a laugh, a whisper or a cheer, we connect with others every single day," said Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president, engineering.
Gundotra, a former Microsoft veteran of Indian origin, led Google's efforts at social media, including Buzz. His Google+ profile says: "Fell in love with the power of software at age 11, and am still in love."
The man behind the project stressed on the subtlety of relationships broken by rigid online tools, saying, "We aim to fix it." In his rollout blog, Gundotra took many digs at Facebook: "Today's online services turn friendship into fast food -wrapping everyone in "friend" paper."
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Google+ allows you to form exclusive circles of friends, such as family, colleagues, neighbours, and mad ones. Its 'spark' option, allows conversation on hobbies and attractions. 'Hangouts' is for people to "stop by and say hello", like you do "inside a pub or on a front porch". So, you are not available to everyone always. Google+ lets you add your location to every post, upload photos, and group messages for a play or party - with a mobile version on the anvil.
Like in the first days of Gmail, very few people have seen it.
"They are creating a buzz around it to generate user interest," commented Anivar Aravind, a social networking observer in Bangalore. Aravind said it comes after Google network options like the Orkut and Buzz that did not go viral.
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"They are trying to add some novelty," said Asheesh Raina, principal research analyst at Gartner, in Mumbai. "It is better to rebuild and remarket. Now they want to replicate the success of Facebook."
Making money from friendships, Facebook is threatening an older company that made a business out of search. According to com-Score Data Mine, in May, Google Sites became the first web property to surpass one billion unique visitors, with an eight per cent annual growth. Microsoft sites came second with 905 million, followed by Facebook with 713.6 million.
Facebook grew faster, though. March data showed 43 per cent growth in users over the past year. Observers like Raina see Google making more money, including in India with its mobile boom, with the networking platform piggybacking on other products.
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That is the worry of some. "Stop tracking and targeting me," said Christian Wolff, a Hyderabadbased researcher, a networking buff. "I'll tell you when I want to be found."
Google top bosses said that they have learnt their lesson. Recently Buzz, a sharing tool for Gmail users, drew flak for automatically bundling up user e-mail identities for the network. Google entered into a settlement in March with the US Federal Trade Commission over charges on deceptive privacy practices. That, perhaps, explains more filters in Google+ than even in Facebook.
Courtesy: Mail Today