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Thanks to my friend and fellow Fool LouAnn Lofton, author of Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should, Too, I gained entrance into Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) new social media service, Google+, before the long weekend. I've been experimenting with it ever since.
There's a lot riding on the success of Google's newest venture. Bonuses, for one. Returning Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page issued an April edict to his company's 26,000-plus employees tying a chunk of their compensation to the success of then-undefined social media initiatives. Today, they've got reason to be optimistic.
"Couldn't be more proud of the team today. It's a good start," Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of engineering, wrote in his first public post on Google+. Page reshared the sentiment the next day. Not long after, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg joined the service to poke around a bit.
Good thinking. Posts I've seen about Google+ range from "interesting" to "could be a Facebook killer." I find myself more aligned with the "could be interesting" crowd but can't discount the power of the service and its potential impact on Zuck's social network. Neither can investors. Since the debut of Google+ on June 28, shares of Google have rallied nearly 8%.
Fools weigh in
Among my Foolish colleagues, both Motley Fool Inside Value advisor Joe Magyer and personal finance and automotive analyst John Rosevear say they're impressed with the service, echoing sentiments expressed at TechCrunch, CNET, Engadget, and Wired, among others.
"Google finally nailed social. Plus captures the best of Facebook and makes it more intuitive," Joe wrote in a Google+ thread I started in advance of writing this story. "It'll be fascinating to see how users begin making use of the myriad features. No doubt, folks in Silicon Valley are already pondering new business models based on the platform."
None more so than Zynga, John wrote in response. The social gaming pioneer depends on Facebook like no other company, even as it rolls out new games for Android and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iOS devices. What happens when Zynga ports its portfolio to G+? My guess is millions sign up to waste more time planting crops, building skyscrapers, and invading neighbors -- all within the confines of a Googly environment.
You've hooked me, Larry
While I loathe the grammar foul the "+" creates, the name seems right. Google isn't so interested in establishing a new platform so much as it is banking on using Plus to extend existing services via a black bar that layers over every Google-branded tool I use, from Gmail to Documents to Reader.
All signs point to Plus as a tool for collaboration as much as sharing. The resulting increase in activity would give Google more data for sharpening search results and perfecting ad delivery. Now do you see why investors are excited?
This ideal is of course predicated on usability. Here are four breakthroughs I believe will make Google+ a winner with everyday users of social media services:
- Unlimited circles. Google+ operates on the premise that contacts can be organized into "circles" so posts can be sent almost like email. Only those "in the circle" are able to see posts intended for them, even if that circle includes only one person. Thus, with this one improvement, Google+ solves many of the privacy problems that have plagued Facebook, while also including a Twitter-like ability to broadcast.
- A better +1 button. I've been critical of Google's "+1" button for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a lack of control over the social sphere the Big G had defined for me. G+ returns control to me and adds context. In this case, using the +1 button helps define popular posts in any of my streams. (Each circle can have its own content stream, which functionally resembles Facebook's news feed.)
- Sparks for generating ideas. Just as G+ users like me can post and view according to circles we define, we also have the ability to save custom searches Google calls "sparks." Think of them as RSS feeds. For me, they offer a cleaner but not necessarily better news discovery mechanism than Twitter.
- Hangouts for serious collaboration. Perhaps the most underrated feature in G+ is hangouts. Click the button to "hang out" with any of your circles, and you've created an open invite to join in a video chat. Can you imagine what happens when this feature gets added to Google Apps? Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Skype-fueled videoconferencing advantage, to be built into its online Office 365 service, would be all but eliminated while circle-specific streams would provide much of the same functionality that salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) now offers via Chatter.
In short, I see Google+ as a potential disruptor of the social media calculus we've seen to date. Facebook may not suffer much -- the social network has too much scale -- but all others beware. Twitter, Quora, Yammer ... It's your move.
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