A Review of Google+ Without Having Never Used It
I can’t ignore it any more. I have to write about Google+, if only to keep my sanity.
It seems that Google have overlooked me – again – for an invite to their new social networking site, so like most people I have yet to get anywhere near to the actual site and play with the “new” features and wares offered by the search giant.
But even before gaining access, I think I’m all ready to declare that Google+ isn’t going to wipe Facebook from the Internet any time soon and it doesn’t take me to tell you why – I’m going to anyway (otherwise this would be a real short post).
For a start we need to look at Google’s track record here; both Buzz and Wave have failed to capture the Internet’s imagination, either through being far too complicated (Wave), or being too integrated with Gmail (Buzz). Plus is hopefully built on the learning of those two products, Google are a smart bunch of engineers after all, but history isn’t on their side.
Within the product itself is what appears to be a number of smaller products ‘circles’, ‘huddles’ and ‘sparks’. Which when broken down are essentially ‘groups’, ‘video chat’ and ‘interests’; hardly ground breaking features in my opinion, especially when you consider that Facebook have already done groups and found that users find them difficult to set up and maintain (admittedly, the ‘circles’ idea brings a rather nifty graphical approach, which seems to make it work), but I can’t see that vast majority of people taking the time to set up and group their friends, colleagues and associates quite how Google have envisioned. They may set up one or two circles when the occasion calls for it, but that’ll be about it.
Sparks are your ‘Likes’ or “+1”, mixed in with a bit of Google search know-how to bring content directly to you based on your interests, which is great but again not that impressive when its likely you already know how to use Google or have a bookmark to your favourite sites already tagged to your browser window.
Finally ‘Huddles’ may be the most interesting aspect; a place to ‘hang out’ on your webcam waiting for others to join the huddle and the conversation, essentially bringing video conferencing to the browser and outside of the corporate office. I admit that I like the prospect of creating a ‘video hang out’ to tell the world that you’re ready to talk and ready to be sociable, but on the opposite hand webcam chat is probably the last thing most users want to partake in, as I don’t think I’d be too far wrong in saying the vast majority of Facebook traffic occurs when users get home from work as a distraction or whilst watching TV; hardly a time when they want to be appearing on camera.
Perhaps I’m wrong on this one though; Apple’s Facetime seemed to be popular and a nice little service to have for those grandparents or work-away parents to catch up with their kids or grandkids. Microsoft announced Avatar Kinect for Xbox users and then spend some money on Skype. Facebook are strongly rumoured to be on the verge of announcing a similar feature on their site after teaming up with Skype/Microsoft to provide the service, so maybe video chat has reached its tipping point and is set to really take off?
Regardless of these three key features however, there remains a problem – how do Google attract the 750 million users of Facebook onto their platform, because let’s face it, without users no social network is going to thrive? That task may be far more difficult than any one has really thought about; sure Google are trying to attract users with these ‘features’, but Facebook are able to just as easily add their own competing features and still have a lot more already on their site.
The problem with Google+ is that it doesn’t have a unique selling point to differentiate itself from Facebook and make users want to switch. Twitter was able to do this and build a competing network because it set itself apart and built a unique service that worked differently to Facebook, what Google have built is a clone almost.
A clone service isn’t really of any use to anyone though and as plus is operated by one of the big names in tech, this could count against it. Some, more privacy concerned, users have pointed out in the past that they are concerned about turning over too much of their ‘data’ and ‘online behaviour’ to one single company, especially one so focused on user analytics such as Google. With Facebook this has been less of a concern for users to share their social spectrum as that’s what the site was designed to do (that’s not to say users haven’t made their voices heard in times, especially when privacy has become an issue).
Please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the vast majority of users would trust their social data entirely to any of the big three (Microsoft, Google, Apple), would they? I don’t think I would, which actually inadvertently makes Microsoft’s investment in Facebook the smartest move of the big three into social networking. If Microsoft were to create a Facebook clone I don’t think I would join, unless there was a big enough incentive to do so – I’m sure the same is true of Apple, which is why Ping failed.
My final gripe, which I’m maybe being too picky about, is the name Google+. Everyone the world over knows Google as a search engine, to me Google+ so easily sounds like it should be just a better or more advanced version of their search engine product which could be confusing to some users. Additionally, Google have chosen to host the service using the DNS ‘plus.google.com’, which again may be a tad too complicated for some users or certainly isn’t as flowing as facebook.com or twitter.com is to type into a browsers address bar. I do concede that Google may be betting on users having Google.com as their home page and simply entering ‘plus’ into the search bar or selecting it from the menu, but for me, a catchier name and a stand-alone domain would have been so much better and perhaps even have stood the service away from the search business as a separate entity, which could win some further trust?
So there you have it – my initial, pre-sign up thoughts on Google+, they aren’t all that positive as a legitimate challenge to Facebook, being the dominant force they are, but I guess it is a good alternative and judging from history a good alternative may one day be top of the tree (read: MySpace).
Everything can change.