Feb. 26, 2013 at 11:00 AM ET
"Try the red pill," an image posted by Google+ director Matt Waddell urges. "Simple and secure, minus the social spam." Google's geeky reference to "The Matrix" is a thinly disguised attack on Facebook's universal log-in feature. The search engine giant launched its own competing sign-in feature for third-party websites and apps Tuesday, and though it is powered by Google+, the promise is that it won't litter your feeds with pointless oversharing.
Google+ Sign-In takes on Facebook Connect, a universal login system familiar to most. You know the drill. You go to a new site or open a new app and you're prompted to go through the tedious process of creating an account. But then there's that little blue button, suggesting that you login via Facebook. So convenient.
Now there'll be a little red button, too. (Hence the "red pill" reference from "The Matrix.") And Google's really pushing the argument that it's the better choice.
"It’s secure, and it prohibits social spam," emphasizes Seth Sternberg, Google's director of product management for Google+, in a post on the official Google+ developers blog. "And we’re just getting started."
When you use Google+ Sign-In, you'll enter your Google credentials and view a summary of what's about to happen. Will the owner of the website or the developer behind an app see your name, basic info, and the people you're connected to on Google+? Will he or she see your email address? Will the people you're connected to on Google+ see that you're using that app or website? A prominent "only you" option keeps information limited to ... only you. (Meaning that your pals won't be seeing anything you don't want them to.) The whole setup's quite similar to that of Facebook Connect, so it's doubtful that anyone who has used the latter will be too confused.
There's a key difference though: "Google+ doesn’t let apps spray 'frictionless' updates all over the stream," Sternberg writes, "so app activity will only appear when it’s relevant (like when you’re actually looking for it)."
If you do choose to actively share something from a site or an app, you'll create an "interactive" post on Google+. Whoever is able to see the post will be able to click on it to visit an app or site to buy, listen to, read, or review whatever you shared.
Essentially, Google+ Sign-In is like a polished version of Facebook Connect. It lets you play things closer to the vest and offers solid sharing options when you're in the mood to announce something to the world.
The Guardian, Fitbit, Flixxter, USA Today, Shazam, and OpenTable are among some of the first sites and apps to start using Google+ Sign-In, so you can check out how it works in action. (If you're not seeing the little red button, be patient. The rollout of it is gradual.)
Obviously, one of the questions for Google is whether or not this new tool will drive sign-up and participation in Google+ — something that's not exactly guaranteed. Odds are on the young social network's side though, as existing Google users are likely to "upgrade" to Google+ in order to take advantage of the universal sign-in.
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