When announced back in March, Google's +1 button - ostensibly its answer to Facebook's Like button - had everything going for it... except the social network to be plugged into.
But, three months later, that network is here: Google+.
Heralded, depending on what you read, as a 'Facebook killer' or 'the next Google Wave' (ie, an almighty flop), Google+ brings together many social features - some old, some new - under the same, slickly designed social roof.
Overview of features
Google+, then is a robust combination of the best bits of several different social platforms, most notably:
- Circles: make friends with people, like on Facebook or Twitter, and then segment/group them.
- Stream: an aggregated feed of content and activity from your friends. Think Facebook newsfeeds or Twitter feeds.
- Hangouts: video chat a la Skype. Interestingly flips things round from actively inviting people to chat to just passively 'hanging out'.
- Sparks: a curated content feed. Google serves up what it thinks you'd like to see based on search and defined interests.
- The +1 button: a social plugin allowing users to indicate what they like around the web in a single click.
Other existing Google products, meanwhile, are expected to be integrated into Google+ sooner rather than later.
Google's location-based service Latitude, for instance, or its somewhat neglected blogging platform Blogger, seem obvious examples.
So where do brands fit in
There's no place for brands (or 'non-human entities', to borrow charming Google parlance) on Google+ just yet, but it is understood to be on the cards.
Branded profiles would be the natural first addition - just as verified profiles and branded pages have become the norm on Twitter and Facebook, respectively.
It is also easy to envisage how brands will be able to make use of most of the above features, as Facebook has encouraged with its products (eg Places).
Beyond that, there is the prospect of third-party apps, plugins, and games - again, as Facebook has long cultivated, and Google has in part done with Chrome.
The features of the platform are bound together by the Google+ bar: a thin grey bar visible at the top of the page, whenever you're on google.com or most other Google services.
In this way, rather than being confined to a single domain (eg facebook.com), the platform is accessible across other parts - or at least what feel like other parts - of the web.
So, whenever you visit Google - for search, most commonly, and the many forms that now comes in - what was until recently a predominately solitary experience is now a social one.
Now, while searching, you will have the option to share what you happen upon across your + network.
You will also see notifications from your network: recommended content, status updates, picture uploads, recently clicked +1 buttons...
In this way, Google+ is reinforcing what has been apparent for some time: that the future of social media lies not in closed platforms, but in social functionality that permeates the whole Internet.
Targeting and ads
The coming together of social with what Google does best (search) is surely what makes Google+ most immediately attractive to advertisers.
While for users, social plus search simply equals better search - Google's algorithms augmented with social data - for advertisers it presents an extremely potent new advertising platform: the best of Adwords combined with something comparable to, or perhaps better than, the highly targeted advertising available on Facebook.
And it's clear to see the role the platform's features will play here: Circles is in effect an individual telling Google how they define and communicate with friends, while Sparks has users telling Google what they're interested in and what they'd like to see more of.
Looked at in this way, Google+ would seem to spell the end for prefab demographics targeting, and for keyword-targeted search advertising.
Up until now, Google could determine what users were searching for, what they were clicking on, and in some cases, what they were doing on the sites they visited.
But what those users thought, what they shared, and what they were telling their friends about - not only was that beyond them, it was largely in the hands of the competition.
In wrestling this social component away from Facebook, Google is in effect attempting to plug the information leak; it will now be able to track a fuller consumer journey.
Whether Google+ is a killer or a flop remains to be seen, although it is certainly far more convincing and committed than any of its previous forays into the social web.
Arguably, though, whatever the outcome, there will never be a single, dominating, all-things-to-all-people social platform: MySpace wasn't it, Facebook isn't it, and Google+ won't be it either.
For brands, the implication would seem that, by all means, use every social platform at your disposal - but start to plug them into 'owned' homes which stand happily on their own, beyond the confines of the closed network.
It is when put in this context, with the drag-and-drop circles and the HTML5 doo-hickies put to one side, that Google+ becomes a tantalising prospect indeed.
Paul Vincent, planner, Lean Mean Fighting Machine
This article was first published on brandrepublic.com