June 28, 2011, 5:09 PM

Google takes on Facebook

The search giant today launched a social network called Google+.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Lead Photo

Google Inc. today launched Google+, a social networking service that, like Facebook, enables consumers to post status updates, share photos and post links. However, unlike Facebook, Google+ focuses on enabling a consumer to share with select groups of people, rather than all of his friends.

“Among the most basic of human needs is the need to connect with others,” wrote Vic Gundotra, Google senior vice president, engineering, in a blog post. “With a smile, a laugh, a whisper or a cheer, we connect with others every single day. Today, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools. In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.”

The social network allows a consumer to use what it calls Circles to organize its connections. Those Circles may be “St. Paul family,” or “Acquaintances.” That structure enables a consumer to share a link with his college friends but not his family. Meanwhile he might share an interesting anecdote with his parents. And he might not share much information with his coworkers. Google+ also offers video chat and text messaging.

The service aims to leverage the interests that consumers share on social networks via Sparks, an online sharing engine built into Google+. “Sparks delivers a feed of highly contagious content from across the Internet,” wrote Gundotra. “On any topic you want, in over 40 languages. Simply add your interests, and you’ll always have something to watch, read and share—with just the right circle of friends.” That offering could presumably offer marketing opportunities to online retailers.

About half of Facebook’s active users access the site via their mobile phones. Google seems to recognize that having a significant mobile presence is crucial to Google+’s success, which is why it also launched an Android app and plans to release an iPhone app. It will also enable consumers to share their locations whenever they post an update. “The places we visit shape conversations in lots of meaningful ways,” wrote Gundotra. “If we call John from the airport, he’ll likely ask about our trip. Or if Jane texts from a nearby restaurant, we might join her for dessert. With Google+ you can add your location to every post.”

Google+ will test whether the search giant can reach some of the 157.2 million consumers who accessed Facebook in May, according to web measurement firm comScore Inc. Those consumers are particularly valuable because they looked at 103 billion pages and spent an average of 375 minutes on the site. Consumers on Google sites, which includes YouTube, viewed 46.3 billion pages and spent 231 minutes on those sites. That helps explain how Facebook has been able to garner nearly one in three online display ads on the web, according to a recent comScore report.

For now, Google+ is in beta and only open to a select group of consumers.

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