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Spaces proves Google still doesn't get social

Engadget Engadget 18/05/2016 Roberto Baldwin

© Provided by Engadget

Yesterday Google launched Spaces to help small groups work together with shared images, links, videos and, of course, text. It's tough not to compare the service to Pinterest or Facebook Groups (it even has stickers that post as soon as you tap).

Unfortunately, instead of grabbing the best bits of both of those juggernauts in the group space and creating a great new way to chat around a topic, it's a bungled trainwreck of confusion and missed opportunities.

Spaces is supposed to be the one-stop spot to chat about topics. With quick access to Google search, YouTube and photos, members can discuss items without leaving the app to hunt down information. A main "Space" is created and discussions take place with the subtopics of that theme.

For example: A family can use it to plan a vacation. A main topic is created, and within that, discussions can be launched around hotels, flights, dinner options, etc. Members can drop URLs of restaurants or YouTube videos of activities. It can all be in one place. Unfortunately, not all of Google's services come along for the ride.

When you launch the app, it seems so promising. Setting up your first Space is straightforward. After tapping on "Create a Space," you're prompted to give it a name. Then you can tap the settings dots to add an image and adjust the color of the theme.

I expected to have access to my address book. Instead, to invite folks you have to email them or copy a link and post it somewhere like Facebook or Twitter. Google Drive lets you share without launching an email client, but Spaces decided that wasn't a feature people would want.

Once you have a Space that's populated with friends (or strangers, if you posted it to Twitter) anyone can create a new discussion by posting a block of text, an image, link or video. Within those threads users can chat almost in real time. Because Google search is always a tap away, sites can be shared both in chat or as a way to start subtopics.

YouTube search is also available when you want to start a discussion, but offers only 10 results. I kept having to expand my queries to find the clip I actually wanted to post. It's also weird that the video-search option disappears once you're in a conversation. But if you search for a video with Google, you can drop it into a chat.

The comments are the typical chronological string of text, stickers and photos. If this had launched three years ago, I could see Google being a major force in the group-collaboration world. Instead, Facebook Groups have become where people meet to chat about events and ideas. It's easy to add members and, like it or not, we check Facebook all day.

While Facebook Groups doesn't have quick access to Google's search results, like Spaces you can search for anything within a topic. It also has something the search giant's service is lacking: the ability to search for individuals. When I tried to see what Engadget's Jon Turi said in my Spaces, I got "can't find a match."

Spaces seems like a half-baked idea. On one hand you have access to the greatest search engine on Earth. On the other, some Google services are limited. The lack of search for Google Photos or surfacing only 10 results from YouTube are good examples of this. Plus, I still can't get over the fact that I can't add friends from my address book. The app and site don't really offer anything compelling that will pull people away from Pinterest or Facebook Groups. The company says it'll be testing the service at its I/O Keynote this week. Maybe by the end of the week it'll have enough feedback to make Spaces a service people will want to actually use.

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