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Google In Social Media Battle With Facebook

Google In Social Media Battle With Facebook

1:08pm 29th June 2011
(Updated 2:03pm 29th June 2011)

Google has launched a new attempt at social networking as it again tries to challenge Facebook in the wildly popular and lucrative internet market.

This time the project is called Google+ and it aims to make online sharing more like real life and less technologically restrictive.

"We think people communicate in very rich ways," Google senior vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra said.

"The online tools we have to choose from give us very rigid services."

The company hopes it can improve social networks' selective sharing within small groups to make them more like real world communications, and unlike online where many acquaintances are labelled "friends".

It says many Facebook users find it difficult to limit their status updates to small groups of people so their co-workers are not exposed to party photos, or their parents are not privy to flirtatious posts on their wall.

Though Facebook has tried to address this with a much-hyped Groups feature, it is not clear how many people use it and now faces "Facebook fatigue" in some markets.

Mr Gundotra's criticism seems aimed squarely at Facebook, the world's largest online social network that has become synonymous with online sharing since it began seven years ago.

In response, Facebook said in a statement: "We're in the early days of making the web more social, and there are opportunities for innovation everywhere."

Google, which dominates internet searching, has been experimenting with different social tools since 2009 with limited success.

Google Buzz was one major mishap. The product was a social network attached to its popular Gmail service but it wound up exposing email contacts that users did not want to share.

The company eventually agreed to submit to independent audits of its privacy controls every other year for the next two decades as part of a US watchdog settlement.

Google shut down another attempt at online sharing, Google Wave, last August after unveiling it with much fanfare in 2009.

Google+ lets users share things with smaller groups of people through a feature called Circles.

The concept works on the basis that only select sub-groups, such as university mates or favourite work colleagues, can see photos or posted links.

Another feature called Sparks aims to make it easier to find online content you care about, be it news about football or cocktail recipes.

These can then be shared with friends who might be interested in it and is called "nerding out" by Google.

There is also a group messaging service called Huddle and a feature that lets users instantly upload photos that they take with mobile phones.

"I think Facebook is going to have to up its game," Altimeter Group analyst Charlene Li said about the new challenge.

But others were more sceptical about the Google challenge.

Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst with research firm eMarketer, said users already have their socialising set.

She said: "Asking them to create another social circle is challenging."

"The whole idea of a Google social network... they've been throwing stuff against the wall for several years and so forth nothing has stuck."

Google+ is being launched warily in a "field trial," so it is accessible by invitation only - the company declined to say when it would be more widely available.

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