x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Google takes battle to Facebook

Google is looking for friends and is hoping to steal some from Facebook as it launches new features for its social network.

Google has integrated its flagship search engine with its social network in a bid to rival Facebook. AP Photo
Google has integrated its flagship search engine with its social network in a bid to rival Facebook. AP Photo

Google is looking for friends and is hoping to steal some from Facebook as the search engine giant goes head to head with the social network market leader.

The tech giants both unveiled a variety of new social networking features this week, underscoring their intensifying competition for Web users.

Google integrated its flagship search engine into its three-month old social network - with membership now open to the internet public - and expanded its Hangouts video-chat feature to allow mobile use and broadcasting.

The company said on its official blog that its well-received Hangouts feature - where up to nine people can link up and chat with a user on video - will be available on camera-equipped smartphones powered by its own Android software. Support for Apple iOS devices "is coming soon", it added.

And a user can now host an online broadcast with this feature - recording a session and broadcasting it live for public access online.

"Hangouts should keep pace with how you socialise in the real world, so we're launching it on the one device that's always by your side: your mobile phone," said Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of engineering.

For its part, Facebook said it was introducing a new "ticker" on its users' home pages, providing real-time notifications of what friends are doing on the service. Facebook also revamped the service's main news feed to flag important items -such as a new baby announcement - for Facebook users who have not logged on for a few days. Facebook also changed the way photos are displayed on the site, increasing the size of pictures that appear in a users' news feed.

Facebook is the world's leading social networking service, with more than 750 million users. The company has rolled out a series of improvements to its service recently, many of which seem designed to match features Google has used to set apart its rival social networking service, Google+.

Google did not say how many people had signed up for Google+ so far, but confirmed the social network was now open to all, whereas previously it had been invitation-only. Analysts estimate upward of 25 million users have joined Google+ since its inception.

The company also made its search engine available from within the social network. Users can search from Google+ and get results not just on the network, but from the worldwide internet.

Google's infant social network, which counts Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg as a member, has met scepticism so far. Some are waiting to see if it can maintain the rapid momentum of its first months. If the Google chief executive Larry Page's brainchild - which some say mimics better than Facebook the instinctive categorising of friends that occurs in real life - takes off, it will come at a pivotal moment for its bigger rival. Facebook is widely expected to go public next year.

"We're nowhere near done, but with the improvements we've made so far we're ready to move from field trial to beta," Mr Gundotra said.

* with Reuters