Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

New Google Circles Would Have More Nuanced Sharing, But Google Says No Launch Imminent

Please see our follow-up to this post, in which Google denies such a product exists.

Google has reportedly built a social network called Google Circles intended to help users share photos, videos and status messages with only the most appropriate people. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb had the news this morning, anticipating a supposed demo at SXSW later today, and O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly followed up with a tweet, “I’ve seen google circles, and it looks awesome. Tip of the iceberg too.”

A representative for Google told NetworkEffect unequivocally that no such service is launching at SXSW today. She would not say whether something called Google Circles was in the works.

However, there’s no reason to think it’s not in development. A bit of searching around shows that Google is already using the term “social circles” for a feature that shows its understanding of users’ contacts within its recently upgraded social search tool.

Circles, which Kirkpatrick said has been created by noted social Web thinker Chris Messina and Picnik founder Jonathan Sposato, would also distinguish itself from other social networks by being friendly to Web standards and developers.

As described, Circles has picked a rich but difficult area to innovate. Understanding who people care about and how they relate to each other is not easy. Others who are trying to do such a thing include Path–which limits users to share their mobile content only with 50 people–and group tools like GroupMe and Facebook Groups–which require users to explicitly designate a defined posse of people.

These services’ constraints are meant to inspire better sharing fidelity and more intimate conversations, but they’re awkward because they’re not fluid like real-life relationships.

As for making tools that developers like to incorporate and extend, Circles may have good timing given Twitter’s strained relationship with its developer ecosystem. That company has recently taken a hostile approach to software client builders, citing ongoing privacy violations and inconsistent user experiences, despite their significant contributions to its growth over the past five years.

But developers won’t come running to some random Google project, even with the big brand name behind it. There are SO MANY social networks and social apps right now. Google Circles will have to be great, distinctive, and accumulate a lot of users fast in order to get developers to spend their time with its APIs.

It will also be interesting to see how a new social network from Google would incorporate Facebook, given the companies’ rivalry and ongoing feud over users’ contact information.

Almost without exception, every new social app uses Facebook and often Twitter for a jolt of instant network effects and ongoing sharing and syndication. Google’s in a different situation because it has so many users itself, but in this day and age a social product that ignores Facebook would seem like it was living on an alien planet.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

Image of posters promoting Google developer event at SXSW via Chris Messina on Foursquare.


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