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Everything you need to know about Google Plus

This week Google introduced its own social networking service which it promises will revolutionise online communication. So what’s it all about?

Image: Google / YouTube

ON TUESDAY GOOGLE launched its long-awaited social networking service, dubbed Google Plus.

Widely seen as the search giant’s first serious challenge to rival Facebook, Google Plus opened to a small group of developers and journalists – and immediately filled to capacity. The company is expected to issue more ‘invitations’ to the service as it develops over the coming months, just as it did at first with Gmail.

In a blog post announcing the service, Google said: “Online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.” But what exactly is Google Plus all about? Here TheJournal.ie takes a look at some of its key features – and how they went down with the first users.

‘Circles’

Google Plus bears a “striking resemblance” to Facebook, with lists of friends and streaming news feeds, according to the Washington Post. But a key difference is the Circles feature which encourages users to group their friends by category – work colleagues, college friends, book club, family and so on. This aims to fix one of the key problems of Facebook: what you share with your closest friends, you don’t necessarily also want to share with your uncle Daithí.

The Google pitch: “We found that people already use real-life circles to express themselves, and to share with precisely the right folks. So [...] we brought Circles to software.”

‘Sparks’

Sparks seems to be Google’s answer to Twitter – a way to plug in to news and content you’re interested in from all over the web. You input a list of interests, and it promises to deliver headlines, images and links from like-minded people and organisations which you can react to, comment on and share with others.

The Google pitch: “Simply add your interests, and you’ll always have something to watch, read and share.”

‘Hangouts’

Basically, Hangouts is a way to have video chats with several people at once. The aim is to make online conversation less like a phone call out of the blue and more like a time spent, well, hanging out. You hit the Hangout button, invite anybody you want to join you if they feel like it, and (hopefully) shoot the breeze.

The Google pitch: “Whether it’s inside a pub or on a front porch, human beings have always enjoyed hanging out [...] By combining the casual meetup with live multi-person video, Hangouts lets you stop by when you’re free, and spend time with your Circles.”

First users’ reaction

So far, only a relatively small group people have been able to play around with Google Plus. Their response has been mixed. Influential technology blog TechCrunch was impressed, with their reviewer writing that “I used Google+ for hours and kept coming back. And I have a desire to come back tomorrow.” Social news site Mashable said the project was “a bold and dramatic attempt at social”, adding that it was “solid”, but not “a Facebook killer or game changer”.

Meanwhile, tech news site GigaOm said the service wouldn’t worry Facebook, but that the communications features could sound the death knell for Skype. But The Guardian wasn’t won over – their reviewer called the user experience on a computer desktop “appalling”, Circles “too complex” and Sparks “almost useless”.

Video: Google’s own introduction to its Google Plus social networking project

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About the author:

Michael Freeman

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