Google’s “top secret” social project Google+ was officially announced this week after a year of speculation, rumour and leaks. If you didn’t already know Google+ was on its way a herald arrived in the last couple of days in the form of a black tool bar suddenly appearing at the top of our Google Search Engines. Many people have described this new feature as the start of the search giant’s attempt to take on Facebook however Google+ is not an attempt to compete directly against the Social Network but rather to incorporate social elements within existing Google programmes.
The black bar which will eventually be rolled out over all Google products is similar to Facebook’s newsfeed and will send updates whenever your friends and contacts do anything that Google deems noteworthy. Many of these actions are similar to those that take place already on social networking sites however you’ll receive updates whenever you’re on a Google site or product and have no need to log into a networking site.
The project is still in the invite-only phase of testing, but many have already signed up. Google however has asked brands to hold off signing up just yet as currently only the consumer version is available. A business version of Google+ is promised later this year.
If you haven’t yet received an invite, or are looking to understand the product better, you can take the interactive Google+ tour or by view any of the 11 videos kindly released by Google explaining what to expect when the product is officially rolled out.
One of the central features of Google+ is the option to create”Circles”. Circles separate your contacts into different layers or groups so that you can choose to send information and interact with your closest friends, family or work colleagues at different times or all at once.
“Hangouts” are Google’s re-invention of the chat room and are intended to bring participants together in a combined video chat. Here you can see which of your friends are online and talking together (or “hanging out”) and easily butt in. The main display is filled by the person talking (or talking the loudest) while other participants webcam images scroll along the bottom.
The next two features are strongly linked to the mobile web. “Instant Upload” is a feature that allows you to take and immediately upload photos to private albums on your Google account. “Huddle” brings together different text messages into one group chat making it easier to decide with your friends where to go out to eat on a Friday night instead of texting around all your mates one by one.
The final feature is called “Sparks”. With Sparks you tell Google+ what you’re interested (eg fashion, Manchester United or Jonny Depp) and the programme keeps you updated with a stream on information relevant to the topic.
No date has yet been given for the formal roll out of all these features but it is clear that this is a serious attempt to unify social sharing in one, ever-present place.