Google's latest push into the social networking arena, Google+, appears to be a success, at least compared to the awkward launch of Google Buzz last year or to the tragedy that was Google Wave. The service has already exceeded its allocated capacity and Google has temporarily suspended the ability to request an invitation until the company can adjust its systems to handle the load.
Appropriately enough, Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra announced the invitation suspension via Google+. "We've shut down invite mechanism for the night," he wrote on Wednesday. "Insane demand. We need to do this carefully, and in a controlled way."
Whether it's insane demand or rationing calculated to create the appearance of demand, it's hard to say. Certainly there is demand: Dozens of Google+ invitations have been sold--or appear to have been sold--on eBay for prices ranging from $0.99 to $100.
And there's enough usage that the service is showing signs of strain. Some users are reporting technical issues, such as a 12-hour lag in the appearance of Circle data on Google Profile pages.
But Google looks to be following a path trod by Twitter, not to mention Facebook, to popularity: feeding the media. Public statements carried by Google+, such as those published by Gundotra, and the reported appearance of Google co-founder Sergey Brin at a Google+ Hangout, serve to increase the value of Google+ for the press and bloggers, thereby encouraging the media's participation in the service and increasing its visibility.
The generally positive reviews are likely to help Google+ thrive where past projects, less well reviewed, have stalled.
Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility and founder of Privacy Forum, offered his praise for Google+ in a Google+ post: "A clear and extremely welcome difference between Google+ and Facebook is that G+ treats us as adults able to determine our own relationships and sharing preferences, in contrast to Facebook that treats us like sheep to be fleeced via pressures to over-share."
Another thing going for Google+ is its potential utility to businesses. Facebook's version of sharing has long been associated with silliness and banality--think updates about friends' eating habits. Though there's more to it than that these days--the similarity between the two services is succinctly captured in Randall Munroe's the online comic xkcd--the sense remains that Facebook isn't where serious interaction takes place. Google has wisely opted to organize Google+ around small groups rather than a single, massive list. As such, Google+ Circles and Hangouts look like they'd be suitable for group collaboration in contexts where some degree of privacy is appropriate.
As to when Google+ may again start accepting requests for invitations, Google doesn't have a clear answer. "We launched Google+ in a Field Trial in order to test the product and gather more feedback," a Google spokesperson said in an email. "As part of the Field Trial, we may open/close Google+ to new users, at any time. We're thrilled so many people are interested in trying out a new approach to online sharing!"
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