Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Google Plus: Don't Be Evil.

The current “thing of the moment” on the internet is, of course, Google's offering in the world of social networking services, Google Plus. With the proliferation of Facebook to the point where it sometimes seems like literally everyone is using it (I've actually had to go way out of my way to remember that certain friends didn't have it, and invite them to events by e-mail or a phone call,) a new platform begs a few questions. Why would anyone launch such a thing with the status quo so well established? Is it possible to dethrone the current king of social networking within a year of a movie being made about it? Why would anyone join such a thing if what they have now is popular, and people like it?
"It's like Facebook, only less evil and with no Mafia Wars."

Google, as a company, is the world's greatest data aggregator. Their services include one of the world's most popular e-mail clients, one of the most popular web browsers, document creation and online publishing (including the platform for this very blog,) YouTube, and of course, the world's most popular search engine. With access to loads of data that market research firms might literally kill for, you'd think that whatever product they chose to launch would be nearly a guaranteed success, after all, they can predict whether something is a good idea or not better than anyone. However, the failed launch of a host of services from the e-mail replacement Google Wave to Google Video Player, Coupons, Catalog, proves otherwise. Google Plus isn't even the first time the company has tried its hand at social networking, as the failed platform Orkut can attest to. So we know it isn't as though they are incapable of missteps.

If Google's own innovation at its internal R&D “Google Labs” is not infallible, then what hope does Google Plus have, and why is there so much hype about it? The answer to this question may lie not just in what Google is doing right, but with what Facebook is doing wrong. A lot of people are angry with Facebook over a multitude of privacy scandals, a poor customer service track record and new and surprising ways they find that the social networking giant is using and profiting from their personal data with the only form of consent being the EULA clicked when joining. If people don't like their policies, they're free to not use the service... This smug reply to a host of concerns leaves a whole lot of disgruntled people wishing there was another game in town, and along comes Google.

Are decisions made by this man and his company even more relevant to
the success or failure of Google+ than the folks at Google?

While “I'm not the other guy” works as a winning strategy in party politics, on its own it isn't enough for a successful product launch. Where Google Plus is at its strongest is with policies and features that are specifically different from weaknesses that Facebook has. First, Google claims no rights to any of your personal information or content generated for inclusion on their site. You choose how and if your data is used. Privacy and security settings are easy to understand and manage, and are by default set to reasonable options, rather than the most open and public possible choices. Unlike Facebook, if you make a typographical error in a post, you may edit it after putting it up, something that I personally value. The most-hyped feature, Google's Circles, makes it incredibly easy to sort contacts into different groups and choose what you share with each group. Facebook can do this with their lists feature, but it is nowhere near as easy or elegant as the Circles of Google Plus.

Google also has features that either work as well as what is offered on Facebook or aren't present on Facebook at all. Google Plus also makes it very easy to invite people who don't yet use the service, and allows you to contact people and share with them even if they choose not to sign themselves up. Sharing pictures, videos and links is handled in a very similar manner to the familiar Facebook interface, and everything integrates cleanly with Gmail and other Google services. The "Google +1" button is currently nearly indistinguishable from Facebook's "Like" feature, though its integration into Google's search engine makes it potentially more powerful. Hangouts, a communal video chat where people can choose to talk with some or all of the people on their circles is an interesting feature, and one I'll be watching public response to very closely. A lot of people feel strongly about video chat, and I wonder if Hangouts will break down any of the barriers that people who don't care for video chat in general have erected for themselves.

Currently the best thing about using Google Plus.

For the moment, the very clean integration of Google Plus with my Gmail account means that I'll be using it alongside Facebook as a sort of companion social networking tool. The fact that you can add people to your circles without them necessarily needing to add you back allows for fans to interact with celebrities who choose to share some of their Google Plus content with the public, and this feature reminds me of Twitter, only it seems more personal somehow. In particular, Felicia Day of “The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog,” one of my favorite actresses, contributes a LOT to those who have added her to their circles. She is, as of the time of this article's publication, the fourth most followed person on Google Plus. All of this, and no Farmville. It isn't quite enough to get me to leave Facebook, and it doesn't feel as much like a replacement as, say, Facebook did when I had a MySpace, but I'm sure I'll be using it for some time to come.
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Alpha said...

Watch your back, Zuckerburg.

Jay said...

it's only a matter of time... when farmville heads over to google's greener pastures.... :(

Zombie Ad said...

Awesome article. With Jay - people like free games so 'Old McGoogle Had A Farm' might just be in the winds.

The Angry Lurker said...

I'm afraid the games will follow the crowd.

Anonymous said...

I think google plus will take the lead because acordin to this site clavier , 7 million american desactivated their fb account I wonder how will they response to that :) .
P.S the original clavier article is in arabic for a tranlated copy use google translate plz

Chris C. said...

Very interesting thoughts. It will be interesting to see how the whole Google Plus venture plays out.

Unknown said...

Another attempt by Google to take over the world.If I'm not mistaken this the second time the first one failed.

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