And you thought Microsoft was slow-moving! Google this week released a very limited beta version of a new service, Google+ (as in "Google plus") which it hopes will "fix" the "awkward, even broken" sharing methods currently available via Facebook. As such, Google+ looks and works almost exactly like Facebook. And maybe that's the problem: Is Google trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist? Or is it simply playing catch-up in a market that has long since passed it by?
"Among the most basic of human needs is the need to connect with others," Google Senior Vice President Vic Gundotra wrote in a blog post announcing the service. "We'd like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project."
That's a very lofty description, but put more simply, Google+ is Google's Facebook clone. The distinctions between the services are subtle. Where Facebook makes it difficult (but not impossible, it's worth noting) to share things with disparate groups of contacts, Google+ introduces a concept called Circles that sub-divides your contacts up front. Whereas Facebook has a feed of your contacts' doings called the Wall, Google+ has Sparks that also brings information about your favorite topics from around the web. And whereas Facebook has Events for virtual (and real-world) get-togethers, Google+ offers Hangouts.
Google+ also incorporates mobile features, so you can check in at locations, upload photos from your phone, and send group messages via a feature called Huddle. Again, if you're familiar with Facebook—and 750 million of you are—this is all common ground. Been there, done that.
Of course, Google has tried and failed with social networking before. Its original social networking service, Orkut, was a huge hit in a handful of nations but foundered in the United States. Google Buzz was so bad it kicked off a US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into its anti-privacy behaviors, which Google later settled. And Google Wave? It was widely derided as too complex and was killed after just a year.
So why will Google+ be any different? And why would any Facebook user even consider switching?
It's hard to say at this point. For now, Google+ is in a very limited, invite-only beta, and Google says it will allow more people in over time. If you're interested in getting on the waiting list, you can do so via the Google+ website.