Practical Ecommerce

Google+: Overview, Ecommerce Use

On the day news broke about the sale of MySpace for a mere $35 million, Google announced the launch of its new social network, Google+.

The search giant is rolling out Google+ incrementally by invitation only — similar to the way it introduced Gmail a few years ago — presumably to maintain tight control and quickly update it based on feedback from users. Google extended Initial invitations to technology early-adopters — here’s Robert Scoble’s profile, for example — but have since increased in number. I received an invitation a couple of days after the network went live.

Google+ is being compared to Facebook — see this article by The Christian Post — with some musing about whether it can compete with the more established social network. But, let’s take a look at what Google+ has to offer on its own merits.

The Google+ interface is divided into four main areas: Stream, Photos, Profile and Circles.


Stream is to Google+ what Newsfeed is to Facebook.

Stream is to Google+ what Newsfeed is to Facebook.

Stream is to Google+ what the Newsfeed is to Facebook; it is a constantly changing update of user-generated content. Similar to Facebook, users can share text, photos, videos, and links. However, unlike Facebook, there is also an option to share location.

Users are given three options in terms of responding to posts that are also very Facebook-esque: Comment, Share and +1, which is Google’s version of the “Like” button.

One quirk I noticed in using the network over the weekend was items that received more comments than others would crop up again at the top of the stream, a behavior that reminded me of the “Top Stories” in Facebook’s Newsfeed. I hope that Google will provide some options for what users can choose to view when they log in, as seeing the same stories over and over again quickly becomes unappealing.


Photos show albums uploaded by friends.

Photos show albums uploaded by friends.

Google+ provides four options for showing photos:

  • Photos from your friends (“Circles” is the term used by Google+; more on that later)
  • Photos from your phone
  • Photos of you
  • Photos uploaded by you

While Facebook shows photo albums created by Profile owners, Google+ defaults to show those made by friends.

During the profile creation process, Google+ asked if I wanted to incorporate photos from Picasa — Google’s photo editing software — which I did.


Google+ incorporates the long-standing Google Profiles application.

Google+ incorporates the long-standing Google Profiles application.

Google Profiles — an application that has existed for several years — has been incorporated into Google+. Profiles give users the ability to post biographical information, photos, videos and items shared using Google Buzz.

A recent addition to Profiles is the new “+1” button, which, as mentioned earlier, is Google’s version of the Facebook “Like” button. Google introduced +1 into search returns, where searchers can recommend items of interest to friends.

The use of existing Google technologies like Profiles may foreshadow Google’s real intention in creating Google+: to provide an homogenous platform through which all Google apps — such as Docs, Gmail, Reader, and YouTube — have social-sharing features in them.


Circles is what distinguishes Google+ from other social networks.

Circles is what distinguishes Google+ from other social networks.

Circles is Google’s term for its friend categorization feature. It’s what distinguishes Google+ from Facebook, in my view. Using a simple drag-and-drop interface, Circles provides a way for users to separate friends by category or relationship – Acquaintances, Friends, Family, Professional Connections, and so forth. That way, users have the ability to share relevant content only with those who have reason to see it. While this is possible using Facebook’s lists feature, it is not nearly so intuitive or easy to use.

To get a better understanding of how to use Circles, here is a Google-produced video.

Other Features

Google+ offers two other features that are worth noting: Sparks and Hangouts.


Sparks provide a way for Google+ users to get information about topics that are of interest to them based on category keywords. These can include topics that users can select from a list of lifestyle-related keywords — such as fashion, movies, recipes and gardening — or create their own. Content is drawn from a variety of sources including Google search, content posted by Google+ users, and from +1 data.


Hangouts is a live video-conferencing feature that users can launch to “hang out” and chat with friends. Think of it as Google’s version of Skype.


I have many questions regarding Google+, such as “What effect will it have on Facebook?” However, the question that comes to my mind more than any other is whether or not Google+ offers any benefit to businesses, especially ecommerce merchants. At present, I see no such benefits. And, I see nothing that suggests Google is even moving in that direction.

The ultimate question is whether or not Google+ will experience the same fate as Google’s other attempts at entering the social media space — Buzz, Wave, Friend Connect — all of which either failed or were met with little fanfare.

In the meantime, the adoption rate remains brisk, especially among techies and geeks. The real test is whether mainstream Facebook users will make the shift.

Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

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  1. scottdennison July 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Paul – great overview. I was wondering what professionals like yourself thought of the product in its first week. I agree that without a version of FB Pages, my clients won’t have much use for it.

    Since so much of Google’s business is built on small business advertising, it would be a huge oversight to miss the chance to 1+ FB with a better, easier version of Pages.

    Like you, I’m not sure there is enough dissatisfaction with FB (other than their privacy policies) for most to make a change.

  2. HelperB July 7, 2011 Reply

    I personally am growing very tired of Facebook, with all of it’s changes and revisions. You learn how to do something and the next day it is changed. I hope that Google will provide a way for businesses to showcase themselves similar to pages, so I guess we’ll watch and wait. Someone needs to give Facebook some competition and then maybe they’ll be concerned about actually providing some sort of customer service when you have an issue. Great article – thanks for the comprehensive overview!

  3. Paul Chaney July 7, 2011 Reply

    Scott, I like the platform, but it’s still too soon to tell what role it will serve within the social media marketing spectrum. Google did announce that it plans to support a presence for businesses soon, perhaps with its own form of Pages. But, with no 3rd-party developers or API, I wonder how rich that will be. Still, it’s Google, so anything is bound to happen.

    Helper, welcome to the social media universe. The only constant is that everything changes. The rule is release, iterate, re-release. It will happen with Google+…in fact, it already is.

    I appreciate your kind words about the article. Thank you very much.

  4. Jeff Oster July 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the overview of the Google +1 user panel. We had added Google +1 ‘like’ tags to about 6 weeks ago without even knowing what the user interface was going to be like. It’s a bit premature to comment whether I’ve found the +1 tags to be a boost for sales yet. But as Google goes, so goes the world, right?

    The downsides that I’ve seen as an ecommerce merchant are two fold. First, how can we track conversions that are directly the result of +1? And second, I find that the +1 tags slow down our page load times. And since we’ve added the +1 tags, I’ve seen my default page Google page rank drop! Is it due to a slower page load time? Not sure. But it would seem that for a guy who manages a foot and ankle care site, I ‘m (excuse the pun) shooting myself in the foot.


  5. xpirtdesign July 7, 2011 Reply

    It was a great news from Google one morning which made thousands of Fb users to dispose their account and move to Google+ . The only reason I think of this migration is the privacy they offer compared to Fb. That’s a great news. I too use facebook for everything, to socialize personally and for business purpose. The privacy Google+ has offered and some spectacular feature like circles, spark are remarkable, still I don’t see it as a threat to facebook.
    Also, is it slowing down your page loading speed and hurting your page ranking? That’s a serious concern.

    Google is great and I hope they’ll make it better, at the same time Facebook also will come up with some great stuff to stay on top.

    Cr Banesh
    Los Angeles Web Design & SEO Company

  6. webtwigs July 8, 2011 Reply

    Will Google+ become a ranking factor someday?

  7. Jason Alberts July 8, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the great review Paul. While I haven’t used Google+, I just don’t believe that Facebook users would make the shift since everybody is already on it; rather, many social networking users may include that into their already large repertoire of social networks.

    Also, the only possible e-commerce related feature would be Sparks. It sounds like it is Google’s form of StumbleUpon, so e-commerce businesses with the best SEO and reviews would benefit from the "business" category. However, with small businesses putting all their time and effort into Facebook over the past few years, are they really going to put the time into transitioning into Google+ also? Probably not because they are so time crunched.

    Jason from @KikScore