Facebook says it has “something awesome” planned for its press event Wednesday, but there’s only one thing reporters really want to talk to Facebook about: Google+.
The search giant’s latest social effort launched just a week ago and appears to be a big success. Google recently said it is dealing with “insane demand” for Google+ as people clamor to sign up and try the new service. The company recently suspended new signups and closed several loopholes that allowed users to let their friends in through the back door.
It’s not clear how many new users Google+ has claimed since launching on June 29, but there’s little doubt that Google’s latest social effort is faring better than its predecessor, Buzz.
Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is on Google+ and even happens to be the most followed user on the new service, according to TechCrunch. Of course, few would expect Facebook with its user base of 500 million to be unseated by an upstart service–even one backed by Google. Nevertheless, there are enough innovative ideas built into Google+ that Facebook has no choice but to respond.
That first response comes Wednesday when Facebook is rumored to announce a new in-browser video chat service as part of an expanded partnership with Skype, according to TechCrunch.
If the rumors are true, the announcement comes not a moment too soon. Facebook users have wanted in-browser video chat for some time, and many critics are calling Hangouts, Google+’s video chat, the new social network’s killer app. With Hangouts, you can chat with up to 10 people at once and even view YouTube videos in sync with each other. Hangouts has set a high bar for any Facebook video chat service that follows it.
If Facebook really does plan to introduce a Skype-partnered video chat feature it’s not clear if the two companies will match the functionality of Google’s Hangouts. Skype in May 2010 added group video chat for up to 5 people to its desktop client. But you have to be a paying customer to use the new service, otherwise you’re stuck with less exciting group voice chat. So it’s unclear if the rumored Skype-Facebook video chat has the chops to match Google+ at launch.
Another Google+ feature Facebook may have to respond to is Circles, which allows you to share content with small group of friends relatively easily. Facebook’s custom friends lists can accomplish something similar, but they are hard to use and sharing settings cannot be easily changed on the fly the way Circles’ sharing options can be. Several Facebook engineers have already responded to Circles with a fun tool called Circle Hack, an app that replicates some of Circles’ functionality for Facebook. But Circle Hack isn’t a replacement for a full-fledged rethinking of what Facebook’s friends lists should be.
Google+ Still Behind
Beyond Hangouts and Circles, Google+ has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to challenge Facebook. The frequency that posts resurface on your Google+ stream is a problem that plagued Buzz and is an issue you don’t really find on Facebook. The world’s largest social network also has a massive third-party platform for playing games. If Google+ hopes for massive adoption of its service it will likely have to follow suit.
Google will also have to solve its invite problem if it wants to sustain excitement by opening the floodgates for the presumably large number of people hoping to try out Google+.
The search giant is off to a good start, but it’s Facebook’s move on Wednesday when the social networking empire just might strike back at Google’s rebellion.