GoogleThe social space has become turbulent over the past few days. Search giant Google has debuted its new social suite, Google+ (Plus), and Facebook has launched a whole new layer of easy-access video chat enabled by its partnership with Skype.

Web professionals and SEO people, while excited about the potential, see the playing field morphing around them. All the rules of discovery on the Web are being rewritten as we watch. Meanwhile, the Web titans jockey for position and market share like the 16th-century noblemen in a royal court — while being pleasantly cordial, but deadly earnest.

Everywhere you look people are asking for invitations to Google+. Twitter and Facebook are both brimming with requests counterpointed by the frequent chorus of, “It’s like Facebook, only better!” — on those same platforms. As a matter of fact, it took almost no time at all before scam versions of Google+ invites began to flood Facebook. I was lucky enough to get an invite right at the start and have now had almost a week to play with it.

Here is a quick intro so you can see what’s in store when it rolls out for everyone:

Can the “Big G” Get It Right This Time? 

Google seems to have done its homework this time around. Unlike its ill-starred predecessors Buzz and Wave, this latest attempt seems to be getting an enthusiastic reception.

Once I had my invite, the first thing I looked at were the privacy controls. The fact that you don’t have to go through multiple layers of click-throughs to get to them is wonderfully refreshing. Then to not only find them laid out in an easy to understand fashion, but also (finally!) the ability to download backups of your data had me grinning ear to ear. “Data Liberation,” they call it.

Combine that with the fine, granular control you have over your circles (i.e. who sees what) and it’s easy to understand the “it’s like Facebook, only better” crowd. (For a full overview of Plus and how it works, check out this great getting-started guide on Social Media Explorer. Bookmark it for when you get your invite.)

Of course, once you get past the shine, you’ll discover that Plus is having its own privacy glitches, and I applaud Google for slowing the rollout so it can fix things before everyone gets it. Juan Carlos Perez wrote in a recent piece for Computerworld:

Many of the existing privacy bugs in Google+ revolve around the site’s mechanism to block users, according to a list of known problems Google has published and is in the process of fixing.

For example, after a user blocks someone, that blocked person may not always be removed from the user’s extended circles and the blocked person’s posts will remain on the user’s activity stream.

There are more: Just follow the above link and you’ll see all the known issues. Of course, there will always be issues with a rollout of this scale. The true test is in how quickly Google plugs up the holes.

Digital Land Rush

In the meantime, people are flocking to Plus as rapidly as they are allowed to. As a matter of fact, the person on Google+ with the most followers is none other than Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Facebook himself. (I know you’re probably disappointed it’s not Lady Gaga, but those are the breaks.) Can’t say I blame him, it’s good reconnaissance.

That same article linked above brings up the question everyone is thinking:

But will Google(PLUS) end up being a mainstream hit? Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group, said it was not clear that the successes of Google(PLUS) would extend beyond its early test phase, during which the limited invitations are largely being shared among technology industry people, bloggers and journalists.

‘The other 600 million members of Facebook are already heavily invested in Facebook and their FarmVille farms,’ Owyang said. Facebook says it is not worried about the competition.

Of course, it was also inconceivable years ago that people would desert AOL in droves, but it happened. I think it’s still too early to tell. One thing is sure though, video is the big playing piece in this round of the game.

The Role of Video

Video calls have been around for some time now without really going mainstream. Both Google and Facebook are trying to change that with their new offerings. Facebook, in partnership with the Microsoft-owned Skype, announced yesterday that video chat was going live across Facebook. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s integrated, it’s what I’ve been doing through Gmail and Google Voice for a few years now.

Adding it as an integrated feature to a platform with the sheer number of users that Facebook boasts will ensure that it gets some mileage, but Google has an enormous user base as well. Additionally, Google’s integrated video allows you to chat with multiple people and even host open video-chat rooms. It’s called “Hangout,” and my two tests of it so far have been more than satisfactory. Quite simply, in the world of the social Web, group video chat wins.

For social consumers of media, there is another bonus to the Google+ approach: You can gather together online and watch YouTube videos, while conversing and commenting over the music.  Sounds like an online party, doesn’t it?

But What About SEO? 

Yes, that is the ground moving under your feet.

The changes are already having tangible and well-noticed effects. Jeremy Scott, a writer for ReelSEO, took notice immediately:

Google Realtime Search is the feature that indexes posts from Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, and other services both on its own URL and into the ‘one-box’ on main search results. And for now, at least, it’s not working anymore. It’s not because something’s broken with the service, but instead, the entire thing is in maintenance mode while Google figures out how to best insert results from their own just-launched social network, Google Plus.

I must confess, I’m a bit baffled as to why they would have to “figure it out.” Being integrated into Google from the start, Plus should be easy to substitute into the equation. As I’ve written here before, Google is already factoring in social signals, and it’s fair to say that will increase as its own source of social signals gets rolling.

Final Thoughts

While Facebook’s offering is impressive, in that it will make video calls more accessible to its admittedly vast user base, it isn’t very sexy. One meme floating around sums up my reaction fairly well: I was doing all that in Gmail/Google Voice two years ago.

Google+ may not be the “Facebook Killer,” but it’s off to an impressive start. It has paid particular attention to the most-heard complaints about Zuckerberg’s platform — granular control over who sees what, privacy, the ability to back up one’s data, and (if I might be so bold) FarmVille. After two false starts with Buzz and Wave, Google looks poised for a long-awaited social success.

Video interactivity is the new black. Apple has FaceTime, Facebook is allied with Skype, and Google has entered the fray with “Hangouts.” No matter how you cut it, ubiquitous video is upon us, and Google’s is by far the most social.

Source: “Google Deleting Private Profiles by July 31,” PC Magazine, 07/06/11
Source: “Google dealing with privacy bugs in Google+,” Computerworld, 07/06/11
Source: “Who owns your social graph — you or Facebook?,” GigaOm, 07/06/11
Source: “Will Legal Troubles Kill Google?,” Seeking Alpha, 07/06/11
Source: “Google Realtime Search: Exit Twitter, enter Google+,” ZDNet, 07/05/11
Source: “Google Disables Realtime Search To Incorporate Google Plus Results,” ReelSEO, 07/05/11
Source: “Google+ awaiting Apple’s approval for release in iOS App Store,” Digital Trends, 07/05/11
Source: “Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is No. 1 page on Google(PLUS),” The Economic Times, 07/06/11
Source: “How Businesses Can Make the Most of Google Plus,” ReadWriteWeb, 07/05/11
Source: “Google+ Invite Scams Appear on Facebook,” PC Magazine, 07/05/11
Source: “How to Get Started With Google+, Your Complete Guide,” Social Media Examiner, 07/05/11
Source: “Facebook announces video chat in partnership with Skype,” The Next Web, 07/06/11
Image by Danny Sullivan, used under its Creative Commons license.

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