Noticed anything lately while using Google's ubiquitous search page? What, the navigation bar at the top is now black colored? Congratulations! You have just caught a glimpse of the upcoming Google+ service -- better know as Google's long-awaited challenge to Facebook.
Courtesy of an Engadget report, Google appears to have finally launched its challenger to the behemoth of a social network better known as Facebook. I bet Zucks is paying close attention to this development. As a user of various services provided by Google (e.g. Blogger, Gmail), I welcome this fresh attempt by the internet services giant at developing its own social network. I will even go as far as say I am cheering for Google to succeed. Why? At least Google+ will probably be integrated with other useful services -- as opposed to Facebook, which holds little value besides stalking friends or creating the facade of having actual friends. This is not to say that Facebook is worthless (because it isn't).
First of all, let me talk a bit about the name Google decided to name its social network. Google+? Really Google, is that the best you could come up with? It's better (read: more creative) than slapping an "i" to the conventional name of a product, but I expected better. I expected something cool along the lines of "Google Waves" or "Googles". "Google+" offers no allusion to what the service actually is, which would worry me if I was a member of the marketing team.
Yet (without having tried this new service), I think that Google will give Facebook a run for its money. Rumors are that Google+ will also attempt to challenge Skype through offering video-chat services. It's like Google is waging war on two fronts: on the social network front against Facebook, and on the internet communications front against Microsoft. Maybe it's picking too many fights at once? Well, I believe the answer is no. Google isn't just some weakling in the playground -- it's the biggest kid who has thus far been picking his nose and kicking around rocks. In other words, Google has not made a concrete push on these fronts yet. Instead, it has been busy consolidating its core businesses and building a diverse ecosystem. Now it's turning its attention on building a viable social networking platform.
My opinion is that Google will win in the long term against the two incumbents. The reason is simple: neither Facebook nor Microsoft offers the diversity of integrative products as Google does. Facebook has become a display advertising giant, but has not expanded into nothing other than maintaining its social network -- its "Apps" are entertaining and recent business promoting a-la-Groupon holds some potential though. Microsoft is in a better position than Facebook, but not by much. Its Hotmail service has largely been crowded out by Yahoo! and Gmail, Bing is forever the underdog to Google Search, and the bulk of its true content pathways are funneled to its Xbox business. In sum, the recipe to Google's victory is its ability to streamline the integration of its many services into a single, user-friendly ecosystem. If Google+ becomes a place where popular services like Gmail, Maps, Search, Docs, and Translate can be brought together, then it will be an absolute winner. In other words, Google+ has to become so good that users cannot afford to stay away from it.
In economic terms, what makes Facebook and Skype so successful right now are their market share. Both have reached what is known as "critical mass", when the number of users skyrockets and the business takes off. It takes years to build out to "critical mass" but, once reached, incumbents are very difficult to unseat. But they are not "unseatable" -- all it takes is a novel approach, or a better experience to lure away users. The nature of businesses such as social network and video communications are their dependency on popularity; the more people use them, the more potential users will opt in. But Google has this popularity already through its myriad of different services. The task at hand is to bring everything together.