Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) launched a beta version of its new social networking platform in an attempt to take on Facebook. Dubbed the Google+ project, the program allows users to selectively share materials with friends and family sorted into "circles."
Users can drag and drop contacts into Google's circles.
Facebook offers a similar tool called "Lists," which groups friends as determined by the user. Unlike Lists, the Circles features allows for group messaging to list members, a characteristic similar to Facebook's Groups.
Google, however, denies that the service will compete directly with Facebook.
"We realize that today people are increasingly connecting with one another on the web. But the ways in which we connect online are limited and don't mimic our real-life relationships. The Google+ project is our attempt to make online sharing even better. We aren't trying to replace what's currently available, we just want to introduce a new way to connect online with the people that matter to you," said Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of social at Google, in an email to SearchEngineLand.com.
Hangouts allows groups of users to chat at once.
The Google+ project includes a number of functions that can stretch into the mobile industry. For example, Hangouts is a multi-person video chat solution. Also new for mobile is Google's instant upload feature. Users can take photos from their phones and, with the user's permission, have the uploaded to a private cloud service accessable over multiple devices. Later, the user can choose which, if any, of these photos to share with other users.
Mobile Google+ also boasts a group messaging feature, Huddle, which offers real-time texting to multiple people.
Google+ is currently still in beta mode and requires an invitation to join. Users can download a free app to access their Google+ account via the Android store. A version for iOS is coming soon.
Previous Google social initiatives like Buzz and Wave have failed to gain significant traction, although more than 10 million consumers actively use its Latitude mobile friend-finder service each month. Earlier this year, Latitude added check-in features to rival similar location-specific solutions from startups like foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt.
Google+ also arrives as some onlookers question how much longer Facebook can continue its extraordinary growth rate. Although Facebook is closing in on the 750 million worldwide user benchmark, its growth slowed to 1.7 percent in May 2011, Inside Facebook reported earlier this month. Over the last year Facebook has added an average of 20 million new users each month, but the social media platform welcomed only 11.8 million new additions in May, down from 13.9 million in April.