Google+ has Circles, Sparks and Hangouts, but will it nab Facebook users? [Video]
Google+ is looking to take on Facebook, which is used by more than 650 million people worldwide, and is so far doing so by making preexisting Google products more social.
Google+ is made up mainly of three products -- Circles, Sparks and Hangouts. These are the first three items a Google+ user sees on the network's "welcome" page.
Circles allows Google+ to sort those a user follows on the service into custom groups -- family, friends, co-workers and anything else someone can come up with. Contacts can be in multiple Circles and a user can follow a person who doesn't follow them back -- a Twitter like move and something you can't do in Facebook.
When a user shares a photo or link or a burst of text on Google+, he or she can share what the post with the public or specific Circles.
Sparks is essentially Google News made social, and put into the Facebook-like layout of Google+.
Sparks allows users to set topics and check out news sorted to their tastes -- rather than going to Google News and seeing news coverage in topics sorted by Google itself.
When a user is looking at Sparks, he or she might see a news item worth sharing with a few friends, but not everybody. Using Circles, news items from Sparks can be shared to one person, one Circle or publicly.
Hangouts is a group video chat feature that allows one user to start a video chat session -- a Hangout -- and other users from their Circles of friends can pop in and chat as they see fit. A user can start a hangout open to specific Circles, all Circles or even specific people.
Again, this isn't necessarily new for Google -- it's been doing video chatting for a while now with video chats in Gmail and its Google Talk service.
The new part here is the spontaneity that Google has built into Hangouts with friends dropping by unexpectedly -- something that was a lot more fun than I expected it would be. And, again, this is an example of Google taking technology it already has and making it more social.
And, of course, Google+ has a photo sharing section -- which is the Google-owned Picasa Web photo album service -- built into the social network to make sharing, tagging and sorting albums more social as well.
As Google+ grows (it still isn't open up to the public) the addition of new features will continue, Google said. Already, there are rumblings that games, apps and business pages will make their way into Google+ with a social spin.
I'd say a safe bet would be that Google will eventually integrate its Groupon challenger into Google+ as well. Facebook is already doing that and if Google wants to compete it'll need to offer similar enticement to its users.
By going with what Google knows and is already successful at -- video chatting, organizing contacts and delivering news content -- Google+ is also hoping to correct the missteps that came with last year's Google Buzz product.
Buzz was a Gmail add-on that offered up a Twitter-esque platform to share thoughts, links and photos, with a user's email contacts. The social networking tool was riddled early on with privacy problems, but Google made changes and eventually found itself in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that set new rules on how the search giant handles the sharing of its users information.
With lessons learned, hopefully, Google has rearmed and is at it again, looking to dominate in social media the way it does in search and in smartphone operating systems with Android -- the most popular mobile OS in the world.
In the video below, we give you a quick rundown of Google+ as it stands today.
As of now, nobody can say for sure whether or not Google+ will push Facebook aside as the leading social network. Google+ hasn't even been out for a week yet and still has some maturing to do before it can compete with all that Facebook offers.
The one thing that is for sure is that social networks are only worth as much as the people who use them.
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A Google+ Hangout video chat session in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times