About a week ago I finally wrangled an invite to google+ - Google's new social networking platform. And let me tell you, I love it. It feels similar to facebook but it's more user friendly. I especially love the fact that you have full control over your privacy and data and that you can group people into circles and choose who gets to see which elements of your content. Now for most people this is a big selling point. After all, if someone sends you a friend request on facebook, such as your boss or your mother, then it would be rude to decline it. But once you've added them as a friend then they can see your profile. All your pictures, all your statuses. Now who really wants to have their boss see them griping about their job? Or their mother to see pictures of them snogging some random girl on a night out?*
But, the problem is that there aren't that many people on google+. Not yet at any rate. Apparently they got 10 million users in their first week. Great. But facebook has 750 million. So I still have to use facebook.
Now obviously when they end the invite-only system the number of users will increase and I may well be able to use plus more than I do facebook but it'll be a long time coming and lots of people will stick with facebook and what they know.
So facebook shouldn't be too worried about plus as a competitor. But today something showed up in my stream on plus and that's what prompted me to write this post.
See, the key thing about plus is that it's linked in with all of google's other products. Products which, when you think about it, do everything all the essential software on your computer does. Email? Check. Word processing? Check. Spreadsheets and slideshows? Check. Calender? Check. Photos? You guessed it - check.
At the moment if someone wants to send a co worker a file then they need to email it. For most people this entails going on to the web, logging into their email account, attaching the file to an email and then sending it. And if the file isn't on their work computer then they'll have had to email it to themselves from home or wherever else the file is stored. Of course there is software which lets you store files remotely and share them between all your computers but these have a size limit and you have to pay if you want to store more than just a small collection of files on there.
But with google+ all those files, and all the software to make those files, is all online via your google account. Wherever you are in the world, as long as you're online, you can create and access them. And you can share them as well, with google+. Everything becomes integrated, all your data becomes accessible wherever you are in the world.
That's the argument that was being made in a slide show that popped up in my stream on google+. And it argued that the reason behind google creating plus wasn't in order to try and out-compete facebook or twitter. They've already got huge shares of the social networking market and it'll be a lot of hard work for plus to ever replace either of them in that context. But when you've got a platform that integrates software, files, file sharing, your contacts and email - with the potential for games and apps to be inegrated as well, then what you've essentially got is everything your computer already does. Except you don't have to pay for the software and it's all universally portable. If you use it fully then you don't need to worry about updating microsoft office, or working out how to use microsoft access. You don't have to worry about whether to save files in '97 compatible version or not. In short, you don't need to worry about the computer.
What this is essentially doing is establishing the cloud. 'The cloud' is the term used to describe a theoretical model where everyone stores all their software and data remotely on the internet and can access it wherever they are via a simple access device - such as a laptop or a smartphone. The cloud is going to be a huge market in the future simply because of the convenience of it all for the users. And, by setting up google+, Google has just created its own platform to tie all of the elements of the cloud together.
What this slideshow was saying is that this isn't about trying to dominate the social media market, this is about trying to dominate the cloud market. And from what I've seen so far it looks like that assessment is absolutely spot on. It's not facebook and twitter that should be worried - it's Microsoft and Apple.
Keep your eye on google+ - it might well be the future.
UPDATE - Google has launched chromebooks, a web access only device - exactly what you need if you intend to switch to the cloud. I want one already. I guess I'll have to wait until I've got a proper excuse to buy one though.
* - Not that I've ever done any of these things in the event that my employer or relatives should ever read this.