On Friday I received an invite to Google’s new social networking platform, Google+. This spread through the Endava office like wildfire, and previously planned productivity nosedived whilst we all played with the latest website phenomena.
As a general rule, I try not to write about mainstream topics on this blog. There are plenty of other websites out there which cover these mainstream areas better than I can. I try to review the latest happenings, or to record opinions that I have been asked during the day which have caused some debate with a client or colleague, or both. In fact if you’ve never experienced our corporate culture of having debates in front of clients, I would highly recommend it. However three days on, a lifetime in Digital Media, the reviews of Google+ on the web are appalling, and focus on the wrong areas. So I’m breaking my own rule and covering Google+ as a record.
What is Google+?
Firstly, what is Google+? Most people in the press and blogosphere over the last few days have been touting Google+ as Google’s answer to Facebook. Google have tried launching social networks before. Orkut was a fully-fledged social network; OpenID was Facebook Connect – a single sign in across the web; Google Friend Connect was a bunch of widgets for website owners to use which was ‘convert’ their own sites into a social network; Buzz was as close to Twitter as you could possibly get; and there are probably a few more initiatives out there.
So it’s clear that Google have wanted to build a social network for a while – and I’ll come back to this point later.
Google+ is a giant sharing platform. On Google+, you can share pretty much anything from your Search results, webpages, photos and videos, thoughts and so on.
The key difference with Google+ and Facebook though, is that Google have realised that the one major problem with Facebook is that most users don’t want to share the same thing with their friends as they do with work colleagues. And you probably want to separate your friends into friends, acquaintances and the people you go to Church with. Think of the times that you’ve said to someone “I share this with people on Facebook and that with people on LinkedIn”. Google calls these different groups ‘Circles’ – and you can setup any number of these Circles very easily.
What’s good about Google+?
The first thing that hits users on Google+ is the speed. It’s as fast as using an installed application (e.g. Word) on my computer. There are some new types of interactivity on the user interface – lots of dragging and dropping – so the iPad gets a very standard mobile interface. And it’s all very, very fast at loading and using.
Talking of the interface, it’s nice. It’s also identical to Facebook. Absolutely identical. Toolbar along the top, chat on the left, recommendations on the right, activity in the middle. Lots of white space. A rigid template. Lightboxes for images and video. Well done to Facebook for the usability – it’s so good no one can improve it.
The whole Google+ experience is about sharing. On Facebook, when you update your status, it’s like making a quick diary entry and that’s it. You don’t consciously or even sub-consciously think “my friend Fred is going to see this” or “my boss is going to see that”. You write the status and move on. The same happens when you comment on someone else’s photo or status. On Google+ though, everything you do needs to be proactively shared with a someone/ a group of people. If you don’t actively say who you want to share it with, you can’t update your status.
Google+ is also setting a new level of functionality for Internet video. You can now make group video calls using Google+. You can do this in Skype, as a premium (paid for) function. On Google+, it works inside the browser for free. It’s very clever technology, and this will be a key function for signing up new users to the platform.
One of the main things I like about Google+ is how it links together all your activities on Google’s products – from +1 to PicasaWeb into one interface.
Other fringe points – the entire application uses SSL (HTTPS), to head off major security concerns from the start.
What’s not so good about Google+?
For a start, it looks and feels identical to Facebook. I showed Google+ to my nephew, who like all 15 year olds is a Facebook Power User. He asked why he’d want to use Google+. He didn’t see anything obvious jump out at him that Facebook doesn’t do.
Google have so many products, that some of them that you would expect to integrate with Google+ have been left behind. I use Google Docs quite a lot with friends and work because of the collaboration/ sharing functionality. But Google Docs’ sharing functionality hasn’t changed, i.e. sharing a document doesn’t offer you the same Circles you setup in Google+.
Whilst Circles is a key function of Google+, and it makes sense to choose who to share your latest status with, it doesn’t feel right. Anyone who runs an e-commerce business knows that for every additional step you ask the user to do, it reduces the goal completion by x%. So site owners reduce the number of steps and increase the conversion rate. Google+ does the opposite – it requires an additional step – “Who will I share this with?” for everything, and you start thinking twice about making the update.
Firstly, if I was a competitor, I’d be more worried if I owned Delicious than Facebook. I can’t see people lowering their use of Facebook, where over 400 million people are already part of a huge network. I still see new friends from the past appearing because they’ve tagged me on one of those embarrassing school photos, and we have a quick chat on Facebook.
I don’t think I’ll be using Delicious for much longer though. It’s just so easy to save a web page by +1’ing it (much easier than saving a bookmark to Delicious) and then sharing it with a few people.
I find it interesting watching Google’s roadmap unfold. Every year we look at Google and the description of the company changes. First it was only a (bloody good) search engine; Gmail made it one of the web’s preferred email applications; by releasing Google Docs it became a personal IT organisation which backed up all your files for you; YouTube made it the number one video website; Google Chrome made it the preferred browser for millions of people – quickly knocking out Firefox; Google Maps is the defacto mapping application for millions of people, and has even replaced paper maps in many households; Google AdWords and AdSense is still the ultimate advertising platform – brings advertising opportunities to the masses, whether you want to spend a pound a day promoting your song, or millions of pounds a day advertising on the YouTube homepage for your latest video game. And I still haven’t covered Google’s other products such as phones, cars, checkout, groups, sites, news and a couple of dozen more!
Google+ is the 2011 release to demonstrate Google can produce pretty much anything.
I think Google+ will be a major hit with users because of how it will bring together so many of Google’s products. I think it’s a natural progression from Google’s search engine – to share the places on the web that you visit after using the search engine. And with Google still owning such a massive market share of search, even a small percentage of search users that adopt Google+ will make Google+ a hit.