Google social network takes on Facebook

Google has taken aim at Facebook with the unveiling of its latest attempt to build a social network modelled directly on its fast-growing rival.

Following other recent, failed efforts to build social features into its services – such as its Buzz network for Gmail e-mail users – the service signalled a change of course at Google by moving to attack Facebook head-on.

Known as Google+, the network will at first be available by invitation only.

Google avoided naming Facebook directly as it announced the new service on Tuesday but made clear that it was targeting what it believed were flaws in Facebook’s service to attract an audience.

The “subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools,” Vic Gundotra, senior vice-president of engineering, wrote in a blog post. “In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.”

While early industry reaction to Google+ was favourable, analysts said it would be difficult for it to draw many users away from Facebook.

“I think it’s likely to be more successful than past social initiatives like Buzz, but I think it will be a small success and it’s not likely to be a threat to Facebook anytime soon,” said Josh Bernoff, social media analyst with Forrester Research.

Google sought to play on privacy concerns to set its network apart from Facebook, which has been at the centre of a series of disputes about making user information public.

Google said it would give users “more ways to stay private or go public”. It also said it would include a feature known as “Circles” that would make it easier for users to limit information they post to smaller groups of friends and contacts, rather than automatically making it available to everyone in their network. Facebook offers similar controls with its “Groups”.

“It has some interesting twists on the social networking model but is far from a Facebook-killer,” Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, wrote in a blog post. “If you’re already happy using Facebook, you may have no more incentive to use Google’s new social network than someone already happy using Google has to switch over to Bing,” the Microsoft search engine.

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