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Article from SFGate.

“Just three weeks after its launch, Google+ is off to a strong start.

Google Inc.’s latest attempt to break into social networking circles attracted more than 20 million visitors in its first 21 days, according to the Internet measurement service comScore Inc. And there is a report that Google+ now has 25 million members.

To be sure, those numbers still don’t place Google+ in the same league as the more established social media stars, especially the current king, Facebook Inc., which has 750 million active users.

But Facebook has made enough mistakes in the past to leave the window wide open for Google+, which is still in its experimental stages, to barge through and become a serious contender for the crown, said Sam Hamadeh, CEO and founder of a Privco, a New York firm that monitors private companies like Facebook.

Facebook may have a big lead now, but the two has-been kings of social networking – Friendster and Myspace – are reminders that there’s no such thing as invincibility in the world of technology.

“People used to be on Myspace chatting all day, updating their pages,” said Hamadeh. “And before that, people were on Friendster nonstop. Before you knew it, the winds had shifted and once the winds shift, they shift very quickly.”

Officially, Mountain View’s Google hasn’t issued any updated Google+ numbers beyond those that CEO Larry Page revealed during a July 14 earnings call – 10 million members, more than 1 billion items shared and received in one day and 2.3 billion clicks of the “+1 button,” Google’s answer to Facebook’s “Like” button.

‘Just the beginning’

“We’ve learned a tremendous amount having just gone to field trial three weeks ago,” Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president for social, said in a statement. “The team has been listening to users and moving really quickly to launch dozens of new features and updates to the product. We realize this is just the beginning. And while we’re thrilled with the reaction so far, we have a long, exciting road ahead of us.”

Hamadeh, citing sources inside Google, said the fledgling social network hit the milestone 25 million user mark Thursday night.

And Andrew Lipsman, a comScore vice president, said the 20 million visitors to Google+ in the first 21 days was “an extraordinary number.”

Of that total, 5.3 million were in the United States and 2.8 million in India. And people from the Bay Area and Austin, Texas, two of the most tech-savvy markets, were three times as likely to be on Google+, Lipsman said.

Right now, the main users are the tech-savvy crowd that is always at the forefront of new and emerging technology.

Of the total Google+ audience, 63 percent were men and 58 percent were between the ages of 18 and 34, comScore said.

“It has clearly captured the attention of the technorati and as usage incubates among this crowd it will likely continue to proliferate to a more general audience,” Lipsman wrote in a blog post.

High marks

That technorati has generally given Google+ high marks for its design and privacy protections, especially compared to Facebook. Analysts say Google+ can be compelling.

“My usage has subtly changed as more and more of my personal network joins, and I’m commenting as much privately as publicly,” said Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group, a San Mateo technology research and consulting firm.

One major feature in Google+ is the ability to create specific, private groups, called “circles,” of friends or people being followed.

“Google+ has the advantage of not requiring that people be a member of the network in order to share with them. They just get updates via e-mail,” Li said in an e-mail. But whether Google+ becomes a hit with more mainstream audiences is still a question.”

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As a technology scout, I often look for new behaviors of consumers in order to predict technology evolutions. After some time looking into the GroupOn trend, I have started to form a mental understanding of sorts. The stakes are high and the social shopping trend presents a new prosperous businessmodel and most large online companies are making the move to harness the trend. Let me explain the separate parts that forms my picture and what it all means.

1. eBay – the online fleamarket.

Looking at what today is widely accepted as a stunning success and moneymachine – eBay took the private entrepreneur online. Craigslist and similar services continue to provide broad audiences for the private seller. The shift from paper to online generated a larger audience and more interest for the second-hand market.

2. Facebook – networking our life.

Through the introduction of online social networks like Friendster, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and Facebook, personal networks got joined together online. The effects of “Faceboking” you social life is a transparency that newer been visible before. New “check in” services from GPS enabled mobile devices further expose our location and automatically connects us with unknown people on the same location.

3. iPhone – making applications smarter.

As mentioned above, “check in” services like “Places” on Facebook, Loopt, Gowalla and Brightkite brought the social context to the mobile device though their “check in” features. Together with Twitter and Facebook mobile, the social and contextual dialogue is more and more becoming a way of using the technology.

The New, New Market!

So, based on these three separate innovations,a new market is emerging – Social Shopping. Sure, not all new in its core – Amazon have for long had recommendation and 3:rd party providers of used products. But, if I look closer on the trend, and take into consideration the companies that have announced that they are testing similar products – it will be a fierce battle ahead.

GroupOn is the one stealing all the headlines right now, IPO rumors are spreading and the race is on for becoming the leader of the pack. Nr. 2 on the market – Living Social are playing catch up. Recently I was invited to sign-up for Facebook Deals, a service originally launched last year and currently going through updates similar to GroupOn and Living Social. Goggle is testing its Google Offers. Microsoft is using it´s Bing to for similar services.

What does it mean?

What does all this mean you might think. I fell it’s a contextual shopping trend that moves the web 2.0 into a truly social value experience. If you are shopping for something and have the mobile device, you will be able to utilize your location and seek out good deals close to where you are, when you want it. The technology evolution exemplified by iPhone and Android phones with location awareness embedded is the technology enabler. Facebook networks are the social context and audience for spreading the word and eBay entrepreneurs can chase deals and post them on the social shopping sites to generate a self-serving ecosystem that becomes a machine in it self.

One might think that this technology trend, contrary to social networks of relationships (which are personal and limited) like Facebook, have enough room for more than one or two major services. As the trend relies on action rather than relation, its a active usage and active user who drives the equation – on Facebook, it’s all a matter of who you know.

Implications

The biggest question for me is if Facebook will succeed in incorporating their Facebook Deals service into the private social networks as a natural extension of smaller, often local groups of a few hundred people, as seem to be the norm of the personal networks on Facebook. If they succeed, they will steal the market from the pioneers like GroupOn and Social Living and further solidify their position as the premier social destination on the net, if not Facebooks value will decline as a result and focus might shift. Google, Amazon and Microsoft will steal their fair share of the market place, as they own large audiences and often “host” a mature audience searching for little less cool and less hip offerings – with high trust and reliability.

The race is on!

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