Are you as tired as I am of keeping your social networks up-to-date? They pop up like daisies, and it seems totally useless to create yet another account on yet another network being launched. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, Foursquare, LinkedIn, WordPress, Tumblr, Gowalla… Why on earth would you add Google+ to that list? It better be good.
MySpace used to be it. Second Life looked very promising. Personally I like Tumblr, but it’s instable and doesn’t have enough crowd. Google Buzz never really took off. Facebook is immensely popular, but has privacy issues, a limited API and is user unfriendly. As social networks seem to come and go, why invest in one, when next year we all may switch to another?
What about Google+?
It’s obvious that Google+ has huge potential. Through the years Google has obtained some valuable services which, when integrated with Google+, would make an incredible platform for sharing, engaging, socializing and networking. So far, only Picasa and Google Talk have been integrated, but just imagine what would happen if Google would add YouTube, Blogger, iGoogle, Calendar, Docs, Places and Earth as well? They simply have all the technology at their disposal.
But there’s more. Google has experience with their existing social network Orkut, which is especially popular in Brazil. They also have the successful Google Analytics technology. With the mobile web market booming, they even own the world’s fastest growing mobile platform: Android. And last but not least, they have the world’s best search engine.
Boy, does that make a powerful company! Now it’s up to Google to tie it all together into a single social networking platform.
Taking the above into account, it certainly made sense to me to create a Google+ profile. Having played with it for several weeks, I must say I quite like it. It automatically picks up your existing Google profile. The user interface is clean and easy to use, though it cannot be personalized. Your wall refreshes automatically, which is a big advantage compared to Facebook. Managing pictures and web albums with Picasa is easy too, and automated mobile picture uploading may be interesting to some. Privacy settings so far seem sufficient, and profile updates are a piece of cake.
On Google+ you don’t send out friend request. Instead, people are followed, like on twitter. As a result, wall posts look like a twitter feed, but with a Facebook kind of content. You can upload text, links, images, videos and locations. Viewers can share, like or comment on these posts. Each wall post has its own URL, allowing links to a particular post. One could use this platform instead of a blog, but formatting tools are very limited and an archive function is not available. We may have to wait for Blogger integration to get these options.
With Sparks you can create personalized streams with updates on any topics of your interest. Huddles are only available on mobile applications, and can probably best be described as permanent group chats. Hangouts offer a great and easy way to set up a group (video) chat. Hangouts require a free voice and video plug-in.
The best feature so far, which separates Google+ from other networks, must be its Circles. Circles allow you to group people you follow. This way you can choose which people to share your updates, photos or videos with. Relevance is important if you want to gain followers, so you’ll only want to share stuff with people to whom it may concern. Pictures of your wedding day with family and friends, and a blog about social media with colleagues and professionals. This even applies to your Picasa web album, which uses the same circles to manage viewing rights.
Another advantage of circles is that you can choose which updates to show on your wall. You can switch between updates from friends, colleagues and any other Circle you created.
Google+ also allows you to send private messages, although that is a bit of a hassle. First, you need to choose who can see the message by selecting that person(s) with ‘add more people’. Then you’ll need to actively send the message to them, so they get notified. You can actively send a copy of your message to someone by typing an ampersand (@) followed by their screen name. This works the same as twitter and Facebook.
Room for improvement
Of course there is, it’s a beta. Internal links until recently opened in a new tab, but that seems to have been fixed. There are some GUI issues, like disappearing ‘add more people’ links. There is an option to send e-mails to other users, but since formatting nor attachments are allowed, I see no added value compared to sending private messages. The mobile app certainly lacks functionality, and I’m sure there’s more to be found. But most of all, there are plenty of Google services still to be added, like Blogger and YouTube. In my next blog I’ll focus on this topic.
Google+ is likely to be further developed over the next few years, where new services will be added over time. But the world is inpatient and Google is working overtime to speed things up.
Google+ for Businesses
For businesses to start using Google+ on a large scale, some extra facilities will have to be made available. Sean Percival recently published a concept of what Google+ business pages might look like when launched, but I think they’ll need more to become successful.
Brands will need proper space for a bio, rather than a ‘I am cool because’ field. Custom URL’s and branding options should be made available too. Google Analytics integration would be a must-have for many brands. Google Apps may offer useful co-creation possibilities, while CEO’s can use Hangouts for group chats with brand ambassadors.
For offering webcare, private messaging would need to be improved. Conversations currently remain in your timeline, causing them to disappear out of sight. This will make it very hard to have a longer two-way service conversation. Sending messages should also become less of a hassle and less prone to error, to prevent privacy issues.
With gamification becoming an increasingly important way to reach customers, Google’s anticipated gaming platform will be much appreciated. Creating a separate stream for gaming updates will avoid those annoying friends’ Farmville messages.
Circles should not be limited to known clients, stakeholders and brand ambassadors. Businesses will need circles based on demographics, like location, language, age and gender. This way businesses can send their messages to specific markets. Even better would be an option for behavioral targeting.
A secure payment system would be a valuable add-on as well, so your clients don’t need to connect to PayPal to buy your products. And again, the technology is there: Google Checkout. An in-app payment API is available to developers as well.
An accessible API would be needed to allow Google+ integration in third-party tools such as Hootsuite, SalesForce and Radian6. This API really should be a lot better that the Facebook API, which allows limited access to data.
Will business pages contain a Facebook-like public wall? Or will clients need to send their remarks to @brandname? Soon I hope to be among the lucky ones to beta test a business profile.
Great potential or not, in the end the only bottom-line for the success of Google+ will be it’s critical mass. Once enough trend-setters, influencers and millions of common users have made the move, so will the masses. For me personally, it need to get a sense of sustainability as well. I gotta have the feeling that this one here is to stay – at least for a considerable time – before I desert other networks.
Brian Solis, Seth Godin and Pete Cashmore made the move. So did internet personality Ray William Johnson, who already has close to 100.000 followers. Even Mark Zuckerberg created a Google+ account, but it’s unlikely to be genuine.
Some twenty million early adapters have signed up so far, but the crowds will need to follow. Interesting development though, is that according to Read Write Web, Facebook and Twitter usage among Google+ users is indeed decreasing.
Is there a downside to Google+?
I don’t really see it, yet. Sure, we do need to create another profile, and we may need to move some content. But that wouldn’t live up to the advantages of having a one-does-it-all social network.
Maybe the only thing would be that Google gets access to even more of our data. Since knowledge is power, it gives this company even greater dominance. Would hackers like The Anonymous break into Google’s systems, they would deeply break into the personal lives of many millions, as Sony recently learned. Security will have to be a major point of interest for Google, indeed.
Yes, Google+ might be just it. If it allows me to have just one, easy to use space to publish updates and stay updated with many interesting people around, it certainly is. When it offers optimal integration with other Google services like YouTube and Blogger, it would even become better.
For businesses, there will be a lot more development to be done to make it the preferred platform of choice. For them especially, a critical mass will be crucial.
At Google, they have gold in their hands. If they forge it to a jewel, I believe Goolge+ will be the next big thing indeed.
I’d be happy to learn about your first experiences with Google+, so feel free to drop me a line.