Whither Google+?

Google+ clearly stands on the shoulders of giants. It has learned valuable lessons from the current giants of social media, Facebook and Twitter (see video here). It combines a Facebook-like layout that prominently features a newsfeed and friends, with Twitter’s ease of following. It many ways, it feels like a buttoned-down Facebook, from its simple Google-like design to its somewhat less-entangled circles. It also has what may be it’s “killer app”: Google Hangout. G+ clearly has the edge when it comes to face-to-face video conferencing.

So why does it not seem to be taking off? Google+ quickly gained followers and visits after its summer 2011 launch. These spiked when Google dropped the invitation-only mechanism for joining G+. But visits have since faded:

One obvious issue is a lack of participation. There simply is more critical mass on Facebook and Twitter, where the typical user sees rapid-fire updates and interactions with friends and followers. G+ doesn’t seem to have gotten there yet.

G+ also lacks a certain “playfulness” that Facebook has embraced. Facebook is very good at “shipping product” in the form of new features, including games and other apps. This keeps users engaged. G+ does offer a small selection of games, but regardless, G+ may not be the most “fun” social network out there.

However, it may be the most useful. G+ has a big ace in the hole: the combined weight of a galaxy of Google applications, such as Google Docs, Gmail, the Internet’s premiere search engine, and did we mention Google Hangout? G+ has finally made video chat a think of ease, seamlessly integrating it with a power social network. This satisfies a network’s need to be meaningful and to allow transparent collaboration. It has been invaluable for this class. As Josephine Dorado puts it, G+ is part of Google’s “collaborative system,” which may be more than the sum of its parts. In this sense, G+ is just a really smart fit for the things we want to do online.

Finally, is it even fair to judge G+ against dedicated social platforms such as Facebook? G+ may not have to be a destination. Everyone uses Google, and when they do, they will see that black bar with the red G+ notification alert. As Tom Anderson, MySpace’s founder, points out, you are going to end up on G+ whether you want to or not. It’s just there in a very functional, utilitarian manner. Is it flashy? No. Is it sustainable on some level, even if not spectacularly? The answer is yes.

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Google+’s – (Negatives)

Google+ has possibly had one of the best social media site launches in history, going from 20 million and then to 50 million users in a very short time. Though Google is no stranger to good practices on the internet, LA Times and many other outlets and individuals have expressed skepticism about the success of the social media site and have called out Google+ as a “fading interest”.

The graph below shows total visitors of Google+ in a measure of biweekly increment for five months (until November), as measured by Hitwise.

This brings me to the first negative aspect of Google+:

1)      Lack of participation- Though Google+ has a great potential, the amount of people that login every day and contribute to the user experience has diminished, if it ever took off. This adds to the users not seeing the social networking site as something they would like to spend time on.

The screen shots above gives an idea of how a user may view the activity of both (Facebook and Google+) when logging in.  Going into my profile, we see that in Google+, my feed has something new every hour or so.  Looking at my homepage, it is sometimes only three or four activities logged a day.  Whereas on Facebook, my contacts are sharing activity every 15 minutes or so.

 

2)      Merging circles With circles being a central feature of Google+, one would think that the capabilities of it would be readily available.  However, the simple task of merging circles is not one of them.  Once a user adds a person, they put them in a circle to initiate the consent of adding the person. If a circle becomes outdated, however, the simple task of combining circles is not an easy one.  A user has to manually add each individual into another circle to get what merging circles would have done.

 

3)      Games – Many users like the idea of having social network sites with a good amount of games to play with their friends.  Since you have all your friends in one site, why not initiate a game with one of them rather than playing with a random individual?  In a message accidently published by a Google engineer, a criticism of Google not understanding platforms was the idea of users wanting to game.  He admitted that Google+ had only added that feature at the very last minute, and even now, the site has only 28 games to choose from.

 

4)      Missing synchronization across networks – Many networking sites including LinkedIn have been able to integrate other platforms with their own.  Foursquare and checking into a destination, Twitter and tweeting updates, Spotify and what music users are listening to are just a few platforms that Google+ could have set-up on their site.  With more synchronization, more users can share information with their friends across networks.

 

5)      Posts for circles cannot be changed – Unfortunately for users, if a post was intended for one or more circles (or everyone), and it had not been selected by the user before publishing the post, the user has to go back and then delete the post and rewrite and make sure he or she selected the circles that it was initially intended for.

 

6)      Removing a friend’s post from your feed – Do you get bugged by that “friend” who posts ridiculous content, or is outright annoying on your feed? You love them, but their posts are unnecessary and you don’t want to read it when logging into the site.  Unfortunately, Google+ does not give users the option to hide all posts from a certain contact without removing the friend from their Google+ circles.  A little harsh for those friends who are open to share everything or anything.

Google Plus Facebook Equals…Innovation

Any time a pioneering social platform emerges amongst the existing social networking giants, comparisons are seemingly inevitable to avoid.  It is a familiar pattern: Friendster versus MySpace…MySpace versus Facebook…Facebook versus Twitter…and now, we have the latest collaborative effort from the prevailing Internet matrix, Google.  It was only a matter of time that Google jumped into the deep end of the networking pool to join the floating social devices, Facebook and Twitter, for a not-so-casual swim (MySpace has already sunk to the bottom, however).  Charlie Sheen might have provided the common “winning” term with a whole new popular culture connotation (an overkill one to say the least), but in this never-ending social media competition—does the newly developed Google+ have the ability to achieve a dominant status amongst its groundbreaking, “winning” predecessors?  That remains to be seen.

While critics have the ability (and time) to nitpick every minute detail of the Google’s newest profile and then subsequently match those qualities up against the current networking royalty—Facebook and Twitter—that could result in a monotonous “he said, she said”… “I’m better than you”…back-and-forth argument regarding the steep uphill climb to the top of the social web mountain.  And since I am personally not capable of predicting the future, it is merely impossible to know which site will be standing tall(est) in the very end, but for now, a generic features analysis containing basic comparisons shall suffice to determine the Google+ competitive market value.

Google + Facebook = Similarities & Differences

Facebook, even from the very beginning, continues to pride itself on the simple searchable ability to build a network of friends.  As soon as Google+ revealed its unique Circles concept, Facebook quickly revamped its own organizational system of “grouping” friends into distinct sections that allows the user to exclusively share content with those members and those members only.  Google+ Circles, similarly, allows the user to arrange friends into the categorical shape, offering the choice to share specific information to the circles of their choice.  This setting is utilized directly through the posting box, instead of forcing the user to another area within the networking space.  Basically, the filtering tool gives users the opportunity to choose which circles see certain posts.  That is the biggest difference from Facebook—Google+ Circles is a main feature that is predicated on the selectivity of interactive hierarchies of influencers, while Facebook grouping is a supplementary option that is available more for convenience rather than primary functionality.

You know what they say…what’s in a profile anyway?

Well, maybe that’s not how the phrase actually goes, but for the sake of social media… “what’s in a profile anyway” is quite a valid inquiry nonetheless.  Nowadays, it seems virtually impossible to create a profile page without the familiar, proverbial real-time stream of status updates.  MySpace embraced it, Facebook greatly improved it, Twitter mastered it, and Google+ includes the activity stream as well.  Through showing the flowing activity from the user’s friends, Google+ has joined the news feed brigade with an integrated feature that has yet to distinctly separate itself from its networking neighbors.  This portion proves that sometimes, the image speaks louder than words.  Take a look for yourself:

Google+ 1, Facebook -1

Probably the most appealing aspect of the Google+ service is the inventive Google+ Hangout, which is a virtual video chat that adds a physical level to the complex technological world.  Google+ Hangouts benefit users in a way that prompts meaningful conversations through yet another novel channel, with the capacity to simultaneously attach and share links/files/media as well as message with text while engaging in the virtual chat.  By switching to the person who is speaking at a given moment, and nine can participate, the Hangout platform places emphasis on the real-life physicality of a face-to-face meeting.  So, why is this important for businesses, too?  Google+ Hangout essentially enhances business-to-customer relationships because it gives them a new means of connection and engagement with the presented product, driving relevant discussions and communicative exchanges.  Tyra Banks even held a recent Google+ Hangout in an attempt to market her new book to the social media-savvy public.

I could even make a case that Google+ Hangout served as the corporeal classroom for this particular online course as my group and I utilized the platform to conduct meetings, assign individual responsibilities, generate project productivity, and even playfully socialize in a revolutionary environment.  Just by making (us) everyday social media users revel in that evocative feeling of being a mesmerized kid in a candy store…is reason enough for this particular round to go to Google+.  Facebook messenger is definitely a useful form of instant messaging—bringing friends together through synchronized, typed dialogue; however, the Google+ visual conference is an exclusive element that allows the platform to bask in the glory of the main spotlight….even if just for a moment.

Even though this investigative analysis can fully explore all the social possibilities that each site has to offer, it does have to end at some point.  Unfortunately, that dreaded time has come.  Overall, it can be disputed that Twitter is the King of information, Facebook is the King of all social media, and Google is the King of the web…so what happens when Google infiltrates their territory?  The answer: it is simply too early to tell.  Thankfully, that is for another day as Google+ aims to make its mark, but also separate itself from the networked collaborative systems that have generally dominated the social world…until now.  The competition is heating up, so stay tuned!

(Feel free to ‘like’ this blog post.  Or for the sake of Google vernacular, +1 me!  …Kidding.)

MySpace founder’s defense of Google+

Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson, the founder and former president of MySpace, has a lot to say in praise of Google+. Essentially, he thinks Google+ avoids falling into the “vs. Facebook” trap, as MySpace did. (For more on how that social media “fight of the decade” turned out, visit this post.)

Anderson wrote this piece for TechCrunch not long after Google+ launched in summer 2011. In it, he asks: “Is ‘social’ in Google’s DNA?” Anderson points out that Google has been built on algorithms, millions of which go into PageRank, the engine that fuels Google searches. But along comes Google+, and suddenly Google must cede some of this computer-control to users. Interestingly, Facebook is far more algorithm-controlled than most users think. Its newsfeed is powered by code that ensures you don’t really see everything your friends post, and they don’t see everything you post. Of course, you can change these settings and take more control, but Facebook is legendary for its opaque user interface. Few people know about “lists” (similar to G+ “circles”) or how to manage their news feeds. Anderson worries that Google will eventually add more algorithms behind the scenes in G+, chipping away at user control.

There are more insights in one of Anderson’s subsequent articles, this one appearing a couple months after the G+ launch. In this article, titled “How Google+ Will Succeed and Why You’ll Use it Whether you Want to or Not,” Anderson makes two key points about Google+ and social networks in general.

First off, Facebook and Twitter both succeeded, in his view, by capturing small markets. It went from one university to the next, then to community colleges, then high schools, then companies such as Apple. These small communities became evangelists for the social network. This follows Boyd’s arguments about the passion of early adopters. There is a trade off here. As a product grows beyond largely unprofitable niche groups, it tends to lose the passion of these early adopters. This may have been true for Facebook, but obviously there were enough communities and social connections there to allow Facebook to become self-sustaining and keep growing.

G+ also is capturing small communities, such as techies, “Facebook fed-ups,” photographers, journalists and certain celebrities. It has become a key platform for media pundits, such as Jim Romenesko, and tech pundits, such as Pete Cashmore of Mashable.

Why does this matter? Because unlike a private-oriented social network (Facebook), a public network like G+ (with its Twitter side) doesn’t require that your friends join for it to be useful and engaging. All it requires are frequent posters or “content creators.”

Anderson’s second key point about G+ is that it doesn’t have to be a destination in the way that Facebook is. G+, like all of Google’s applications, is just always there, in that little black bar at the top of your browser window. You will always see when you have notifications. You may not intend to go there, but G+ is where you are. In a recent G+ Hangout, Josephine Dorado, our Collaboration in Networked Environments professor, depicted this as an emerging “collaborative system” that Google is creating. It’s all there in the cloud: G+, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Groups, etc. Instead of a single destination, you have a range of collaborative tools available wherever you go on the web.

From a purely collaborative standpoint, G+ may already have won, you just don’t know it yet.