Five reasons Google+ should succeed, and one why it won’t

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1 July 2011 | 0

This week’s launch of Google+ represents something of a last chance saloon for the world’s favourite Internet company. Despite having become synonymous with search (Google is to search as Hoover is to vacuum cleaner), any attempts to his the social space have fallen flat. In the past two years alone Google Wave failed to turn e-mail into an open conversation, and Google Buzz annoyed everyone by arriving unannounced. How fitting geeky company can’t make a decent fist of a social network.

This time, however, the eggheads in the Googleplex think they have nailed it by combining the better parts of Facebook’s strategy without contravening their ‘don’t be evil’ mantra. For users dying for a way out of Facebook’s increasingly closed ecosystem this could be the ideal platform. Social media junkies will also be impressed at the additional functionality and lack of Farmville (for now). Even observers in the press haven’t been damning in their initial reaction as they were when Buzz was launched. So what’s the big deal, and will it work?

We have five reasons why Google+ should be huge, and one stumbling block that could kill it.

 

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1) Exclusivity

One thing that Buzz lacked was, well, buzz. No one cared it was coming, no one cared when it came and most won’t shed a tear when its wound up. Users might have noticed the recent addition of a +1 button in their social media tags, expect this to be a suitable replacement for the ‘buzz up’ button.

By going down the same route as with Gmail and Wave in using an invite-only system for the beta period, getting a Google+ account will afford a certain cache. Already we’re seeing invites appear on eBay for $20.

By giving the idea a chance to be refined with a user base of picky early adopters, Google+ is putting itself on a slow burn path to success, much in the same way that Facebook went viral, only this time, by design.

2) Organisation

Many users will be familiar enough with the shifting goal posts of Facebook’s privacy settings, but the options for contact lists so far amount to little more than a graduated reveal of content based on the level of trust between the user and their friends.

In comparison, Google+ immediately asks you to organise contacts into ‘circles’ (for example ‘family’ and ‘friends’).

Each circle operates as its own subnetwork with its own settings and, if needed, status updates. This is great for collaborative work as conversations can take place within circles without seeping out into the general stream as per Facebook. For clubs, event organisers or even enterprises, this is a great way to manage conversations without having to change networks.

3) Your data is your own

Google’s commitment to open data makes Google+ a safer bet than Facebook when it comes to your personal information. Google has committed itself to the idea of data portability, ie that the information you choose to share in the Internet is yours to do with as you please.

Where Facebook hangs on to your data until you delete your account once and for all (harder than it sounds), Google adopts a more user friendly approach.

Don’t get too fluffy about it, though, Google still logs your search history and relies on it every bit as much as Facebook does your profile for market intelligence.

4) Conferencing

The most impressive element of Google+ so far is the ability to set up ‘hangouts’ where groups of friends can use instant- or video- messaging together. The text-based IM function has, arguably, tried and failed with Wave, but in the right setting it could become a hit, maybe even a Skype killer.

5) Content comes to you

One feature we haven’t tried yet but looks interesting is ‘Sparks’. This is basically content related to users’ interests delivered to them from around the Web. Described as a kind of automated press clipping service, sparks are sent to the user, which they can share and discuss among their different circles. This is a nice idea and far less restrictive than Facebook’s ‘like’ function that requires you to endorse specific sources in order to receive content direct. Great for anyone interested in broad categories of interest instead of a limited number of outlets.

…And why it wont work

A clue is in the slogan: “It’s for nerding out. Together.” Yes… nerding.

Google may be the king of search, but it has always been more useful than cool.

Google is a process-driven company run by engineers for engineers. Google+’s spare profiles are a less noisy alternative to Facebook, but it’s a bit samey. The features are there, but the user experience is hardly extraordinary. If users migrate it will be out of a sense of necessity and frustration rather than the belief that Google+ is a better product.

When Google finds an algotithm for fun there will be no stopping it, until then…

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