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Will Google Circles be the next Facebook or the next Google Buzz?

One of the biggest talking points in the social media world at the moment is this: when is Google’s next entry into the social space going to arrive and just how will it take on the giants of Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare?

According to technology blog The Next Web, Google is set to launch a new social networking service, Google Circles, in May. As yet, we know very little about this fledgling service, but what we do ‘know’ is that it is rumoured to be a content sharing service, providing users with the ability to share photos, videos and messages with only the “most appropriate of social contacts in their lives, not with all contacts in bulk”.

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Online rumours surrounding Google Circles hit fever pitch over the weekend when Read Write Web claimed the service would be unveiled on Monday at South by Southwest Interactive. Needless to say, Google was quick to quash the rumours but fell short on commenting whether or not the product existed or not.

Its existence seems rather assured, especially if you consider O’Reilly Media CEO, Tim O’Reilly’s now hastily deleted Tweet: “I’ve seen google circles, and it looks awesome. Tip of the iceberg too.”

As an idea, it seems reasonably sound, despite being a sure fire way to abuse our “social circles”. The idea of “social circles” i.e. more targeted content sharing appears to be a step towards a new phase in social media communication, which is more personal and relevant to its intended audience. But to be brutally honest, it does all seem like too little too late. Facebook, for instance, already offers users the ability to share content with specific sets of friends and groups, although with obvious limitations. Will Google Circles make an impact? For now it seems too difficult to tell, but one thing’s for sure: Google will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the PR disaster that was Google Buzz and that the service reaches people in a much broader way than Orkut has since its launch in 2004.

On paper Google Buzz sounded fantastic – a new tool allowing users to share messages, web links, photos and videos with friends directly through Gmail.  The problem arose from Google’s eagerness to compete with Facebook too quickly, by tapping into their existing 176 million users. As a result people started being followed by others without agreement, which lead to a plethora of complaints just days after it launched. Google was forced to concede defeat and announce that is was overhauling the service, which forced it to allow users the ability to opt out.

As for the future of Google Circles – although we don’t even know for sure if it exists – some industry analysts remain unconvinced, “Whatever Google comes up with, it almost certainly won’t be a competitive social network that mimics Facebook.”- Matt Rosoff, SFGate.com.

So the question remains: why does Google want to go into direct completion with Facebook? Facebook is stronger than ever, with over 600 million users – will anyone really want to join a new service which offers the same basic tools? Even Twitter, which celebrates its 5th birthday next week, now provides users the ability to see photos and watch videos included within Tweets within the body of the site.

Whatever happens, the idea of a new addition to the market is definitely cause for excitement. But for now, we will have to wait until May to find exactly what it will do to the social media spectrum we have become accustomed to. Or won’t do…..

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