Future of Google+, Is it the Next Social Platform?

FUTURE OF GOOGLE+

Got Google+?

Google+ has been online less than a month. When I first got on over two weeks ago, there were less than 2 million members, last weekend there were over 5 million, and as of this writing it has over 20 million members. And it is getting impressive media attention. Here are my initial impressions.

It’s lean, smooth, fast and well-engineered. It’s easy to use, quick to learn, and may eliminate many of the other social sites I currently use. The Circle editor is gorgeous, engineered by Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original Macintosh developers at Apple who is now at Google.

Currently Google+ is in beta test, requiring an invitation to the “field trial.” This means that the current crop of users are early adopters — people who are used to unfinished technology for the joy of being there before the rest of the crowd. Google+ is currently inhabited by the A-list bloggers, the Internet thought leaders, the digerati, the technorati,… the Pluserati. (Thanks Guy Kawasaki)

It’s like a new coffee shop in the social neighborhood. The furniture hasn’t all been installed yet, it’s a bit rough around the edges, and very few of your friends know about it. It is less noisy here, or stated more technically, so far the signal-to-noise ratio is better. All your other friends are at that comfy coffee shop across town that has been around for a long time. Right now, that old coffee shop has 750 million visitors. Nevertheless, one may think of Google+ as What would Facebook look like if it were released new now, instead of 7.5 years ago.

Social network fatigue is a term that is being thrown around a lot now, as if it were the same as comic book movie adaptation fatigue. Be that as it may, Google+ is exciting, its list of features and integration with existing Google properties makes it compelling even at this early stage. The flaws complained about by the early adopters are admittedly premature, and the shortcomings are too soon to call. As are the fate of other social platforms.

This is not a zero sum game, as in winner-take-all. One social network need not win at the expense of another… yet, though the Internet is strewn with failed social networks. However, from a personal experience, one cannot spend more time on a new social platform without spending less time on others. It’s a fact of attention economy.  I find that Google+ is my first go-to place of the day. But I’m on the other social platforms as well.

Facebook tells me what my friends are up to, Twitter keeps my finger on the pulse of the digerati, LinkedIn keeps me connected to professional contacts, Geni tells me what events are occurring across my extended family, Plaxo keeps track of my contacts, Quora lets me ask and answer questions of experts and answer questions in my domains of expertise,  Foursquare allows me to do location-based check-ins (and keep score), Meebo allows me to consolidated all my Instant Message traffic, Memolane lets me see all my social activity graphically and chronologically.

Google+ has the opportunity to consolidate many social activities into one location.

The natural questions are:

  • Will Google+ be a Facebook killer?
  • Will it eliminate Twitter?
  • Does LinkedIn have something to fear?

Short answers: No, it won’t kill Facebook. However, it may impact Twitter. I suspect it will have less effect on LinkedIn.

Here’s why.

At 750 million users, Facebook is doing something right. And all your friends and family are there. Why? Because all their friends are family are there. This is the result of early adopters over 7 years ago among college students, and now even the technology laggards are on Facebook. It has an ecosystem of applications and a variety of services that use it. Is there not room for Coke and Pepsi?

With about 200 million users, Twitter has taken another route that puts it at greater jeopardy from Google+. There are likely only about 20 million active Twitter users, about the same number as Google+ has today. Twitter allows sending out broadcasts based on an asymmetrically arranged relationship, true. It has been careful, and more so recently, about who can build tools around it. Those short messages are both the beauty and bane of Twitter. Google+ allows more text, as well as pictures and even videos imbedded in stream which Twitter does not. But don’t count Twitter out yet. In June it served two billion API calls. It is a mature information platform that is scanable for news of all kinds. And future Apple operating systems for the iPhone, namely iOS 5, will have much greater Twitter integration.

Of course, this does not mean Google has entirely outgrown it’s historical technical brilliance but practical obtuseness. It has already stumbled in two areas so far with Google+. First was the business accounts. Admittedly, it announced that businesses should not build accounts during this initial “field test.” That did not prevent it from allowing some news sites, like Mashable for example, from building a stream. However, it decommissioned other business sites. Secondly, it decommissioned some celebrities and people who went under pseudonyms. William Shatner was thrown out. Captain Kirk then Tweeted that he wanted to say hello, but perhaps he should say goodbye. He was soon re-admitted to Google+ where you can follow his posts  about his interviews with other starship captains.

The compelling offering of Google+ is that it offers what Facebook has, peer sharing — but with greater granularity of control via Circles — and the asymmetric following of Twitter, allowing you to follow people without their having to explicitly grant permission.

  • Facebook requires that a person accept an invitation from another member. No acceptance, no sharing (unless they have their sharing permissions set wide open.) But after that, the sharing is “all or nothing.” Lists on Facebook are difficult for the average user to set up, and “limited friendship” sharing is rarely used. Google+ solves this with Circles, which may overlap, that allow you to share with some Circles but not others.
  • Twitter allows hundreds or thousands of people to follow the Tweets you publish, without having to establish a two-way, symmetric relationship. It this way, you can “broadcast” your Tweets to followers you don’t know, and conversely follow celebrities or other thought leaders who didn’t invite you. Google+ allows you to share with all your Circles, extended Circles, or even publicly with anyone who visits your public Google Profile, or finds your post via a Google search. Dialog can be done on Twitter, but it’s a challenge to keep the context. Google+ keeps these all in a threaded discussion. But Twitter allows only 140 character messages, often difficult to abbreviate your thoughts into, though the origin of this was the typical SMS message sent on cell phones before mobile messaging apps appeared for smart phones.

Here are some other ways Google+ can overlap the social tools we’re using now. Indeed, the Status box alone allows great flexibility in posting. For example, as Mike Elgin has pointed out:

Instead of saying, “I’m going to write a blog post now,” or “I’m going to send an e-mail” or “I think I’ll tweet something” you simply say what you have to say, then decide who you’re going to say it to.

If you address it to “Public,” it’s a blog post.
If you address it to “Your Circles” it’s a tweet.
If you address it to your “My Customers” Circle it’s a business newsletter.
If you address it to a single person, it can be a letter to your mother.

Other overlaps with current tools:

Google+               Other service

Photo sharing         Flickr, Facebook
Location sharing    Foursquare
Chat                           Instant messaging
Hangout                   Skype, WebEx, FaceTime, Video IM
Huddle                     Group IM
Sparks                      News, Alerts
+1                              Facebook “Like”

The increasing integration with other Google properties has been discussed by Google employees online, though no timetables have been set nor have promises been made yet.

It is addictive, and the ability to quickly and easily follow other people who you might not have followed otherwise is an easy discovery process. The red Notification button is the new drug for the attention deficit social surfer.

Where is Google+ going? It’s already a browser-based tool that leverages your Google Account profile (but not yet your Google App Account profile), and is also a mobile app on both Android and iPhone. There are already many Chrome browser extensions that correct, modify or extend Google+’s current capabilities. I expect to see many of these abilities built into the Google+ experience.

I think Google has a winner here with Google+, or at least the beginnings of one. Their earlier experiments with Google Buzz and Google Wave were not entirely successful. Buzz was plagued by initial privacy issues, and Wave was almost impenetrable. I could not explain Wave to any of my friends who weren’t software engineers, although I can already see a number of elements from Wave that have emerged in Google+.

I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet. — William Gibson

Come visit me on Google+ here.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

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