> Are Google Still Innovative? My Google+ Follow Up

Are Google Still Innovative? My Google+ Follow Up

Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 | No Comments

There is no denying that both inside the tech industry and outside of it, Google is a big company. They are valued in the billions and seem to attract a lot of traffic to their online properties on a continuous basis, but something doesn’t appear to be right:

  • Google still dominate the search business, but Bing/Yahoo is closing in.
  • Android is growing in the mobile arena, but Microsoft is squeezing them on patents and Apple is seemingly focusing their crosshairs too.
  • Chrome OS launches shortly, but no one seems to be talking about it.
  • Google Music has failed to get any sort of traction.
  • Google TV seems to have died out.
  • Google Health has recently shut down.
  • Google Docs and Spreadsheets seem to get beaten by Microsoft Office for all of the major contracts.
  • Google Buzz and Wave have both arrived with fanfare, had huge initial growth and then have slid and failed as products.
  • And recently Google launched Google+, their ‘Hail Mary pass’ to finally enter into the world of social networking.

I guess what I’m trying to say are those things don’t appear to be going well for them at all. Google are supposed to be the fresher, younger version of Microsoft and were set to put the world to rights with new ways of thinking and doing things as a truly innovative company, yet look again at their products:

  • Search is copying features and layout from Bing (regardless of results).
  • Android is similar in look and feel to Apple’s iOS, yet infringes on Microsoft patents.
  • Google+ is a direct clone of Facebook.

Which begs the question, has Google ran out of innovative and creative ideas? Or are they trying to stretch themselves far too much in order to keep up with Microsoft and Apple who appear to be able to diversify much better?


One might argue that Microsoft isn’t as innovative as it once was, but I disagree; their Metro UI is very different from what the others are doing, they’ve added unique functionality to Bing and search, Health is still going strong, they’ve invested in Skype (not innovative I know, but it’s a major strategic move), they have their unique Surface platform, Xbox and Kinect, and deep integration with Facebook (meaning social is effectively taken care of for them).


Additionally, Microsoft has traditionally been able to successfully sit back and enter markets after others have already dominated that space, with a product that either rivals/matches or offers something more unique (search, mobile, gaming). They’ve had their failures too of course; Zune players are the obvious example that comes to mind. But getting back to the point....


I recently signed up for Google+ (despite my thoughts before even getting onto the service), and what I found was what I’m calling a “Hail Mary pass” to finally get into the social space following the disappointments and failings of Buzz and Wave. But just by looking at the UI it’s clear that their strategy has been simply to follow in Facebook’s footsteps and clone them.


But that’s not all; Google not only appear to be going after Facebook (with friends), but also Twitter with followers, by using different circles to separate your distinct ‘sharing groups’ of people. This is a good idea in theory, but for me, when you read down the status updates (or what I’d guess we’d call it ‘a wall’), it appears to be cluttered and difficult to follow (much like Buzz and Wave), which may make you miss that update you care most about because it’s lost in the crowd.


You could argue that Twitter and Facebook have the same problem, but that’s where two services are seemingly better than one; Facebook for friends and Twitter for follows. Google+ tries to be all things to all people and I’m not sure it works – I don’t think Facebook or Twitter could fix this problem either mind, but they’ve shown no signs of trying to address this problem.


For me though, Google+ still offers no USP and still faces numerous hurdles. The biggest one I can think of is that integration with other manufacturers may be a headache/problem; think about it, you pick up your Windows Phone or Apple iPhone (or HP webOS phone, or Symbian phone, or Android phone, etc), tap in your account details and the phone is instantly connected to your Facebook and Twitter database of contacts. Why would Microsoft or Apple want to integrate with Google when they are competing in the mobile space when they can integrate with Facebook and Twitter and not make themselves irrelevant out of the market by tapping into and boosting Google’s social space?


Sure Google will make these API’s available, but who will use them? And what happens when Google closes off aspects of them for their own benefit (i.e. think better integration for Android devices or be given priority over iPhone traffic, etc)?


The second problem Google has is that many companies (thinking Zygna in particular, but not limited to), have long been aligned with Facebook and as a secondary route they have developed their own stand-alone sites. Google have “Slide” of course after their buyout, the company that brought the world the ability to throw sheep and other bizarre virtual items at each other, but it’s my feeling that social networking sites have since grown up and moved on since those days.


The only way for Google to win in social is to attract and keep users on their platform with something unique that can’t be replicated so easily by Facebook (Hangouts are already matched with Skype on Facebook). What that is, I don’t know – but right now, without that special something – the service will go the same way as Buzz and Wave for sure.


Unlike those services though, if Google+ fails then this time it really will be seen as a huge failure by Google in social and leaves them nowhere in terms of product development and undoubtedly will leave some users feeling cold and possibly even untrusting of other Google products in case those are pulled or shutdown when they are no longer deems sustainable for the search giant.


Speaking of Google’s “Do No Evil”.


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On a slightly different note (but sticking with the Facebook integration theme), I’ve recently switched back on “Facebook Chat” within Microsoft Live Messenger. I’ve been a long time user of Live Messenger (since it was known as MSN Messenger), and tried the Facebook integration previously, but found that ‘chat’ never worked as expected. It seems that Microsoft and Facebook have been busy and finally resolved those problems, which means that I’m now part of the conversation even when I’m not on the Facebook home page.


This now means that between Live Messenger and Tweetdeck, I never actually have to actively go looking for status updates or post updates or log into chat on the Facebook homepage and instead have those services come directly to me.


And that is why integration with others is so important.

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