The verdict is out on Google+ until Google finally opens the floodgates and lets the masses in to decide for themselves. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look into our crystal balls. Dueling columnists Andrew Couts and Jeff Van Camp debate the merits of Google+ from both sides of the aisle. Here, Couts spells out why Google+ is destined to fail thanks to five fatal flaws. When you’re done playing the skeptic, be sure to check out the rosier side of things in Van Camp’s five reasons why Google+ will succeed.
The tech world collapsed into a fury of excitement Tuesday with the announcement of Google+, the latest attempt by the Mountain View, California, search giant to penetrate into the cliquey world of social media. Twitter exploded with anxious early adopters clamoring to get their sticky hands on a Google+ invite, which would allow them to preview the service before it’s unleashed to the general public. And even some of the most prominent tech journalists proclaimed the gargantuan network a Facebook-killer only hours after its unveiling. So, has Google finally cracked the code to social networking glory, as the proselytizers claim? Not likely. Here are five reasons why Google+ is destined for the digital dumpster.
It’s a Google social network
Time and again, the tech press has gotten all lathered up with Google’s hot new social offering. And every. Single. Time. We are disappointed. Not because the products are necessarily bad — they aren’t. Google Wave could (and should) have been a hit. It offered a truly unique and interesting way for users to collaborate and connect, in real time. Critics loved it, and declared Wave the future of the web. Despite all its winning elements, however, Wave flopped, and Google was forced to stuff the project into the fail bin due to lack of user adoption.
Then came Buzz, and we all know how far that went — or, rather, we don’t, since everybody stopped paying attention to it about 17 hours after the location and sharing service went live. It’s still there, hiding in the corners of our online world, but almost nobody cares.
In short, Google has a miserable track record. Its social-media credit rating is in the low 500s. Even when Google can construct a solid offering — and there’s a lot to suggest Google+ is as rock solid as it gets — the company manages to squander its chances. Perhaps execs and engineers learned from their mistakes, and will do it right this time. But the smart bet is on the exact opposite happening.
Facebook has too much of a head start
Right now, Facebook has 750 million active users. That’s roughly one tenth of the world’s population who know exactly how the service works. They’ve already uploaded all their pictures, found all their long-lost friends from kindergarten, and perfectly curated their list of favorite music. Their entire lives exist on Facebook. So making the switch — as tempting as that might sound for many who’ve grown tired of the site — won’t be an easy migration.
Slick new friend-organization features and nifty ways to share articles from The Onion certainly sounds refreshing. But it will take much more than a simply retooling to motivate people to pack all their things and make the trek over to Google+; it will take convincing them that they’re missing out on an entire world of fun and excitement that they can’t access or experience, on Facebook or anywhere else. And until a whole mass of people make the move with them, that just won’t happen.
Google+ lacks the cool factor
As anyone who’s seen The Social Network knows, Facebook grew at least partly because of its exclusivity. It was a secret that only the cool kids new about, which in turn made it cool, and made other people want to use it. You had to be a certain kind of person (a college student) to get an account. It was grassroots and blossomed organically. And the company managed, for a surprisingly long stint, to hang on to that cool. Even when it opened to the general public, it was shocking to the site’s young, savvy users when anyone over the age of 35 had an account (though many certainly did).
Google+, on the other hand, has been delivered top-down. Unlike Gmail’s humble origins, Google+ feels like a corporate creation made to service Mother Google’s main business: advertising. That’s why Google+ exists. Of course, Google has tried to make it cool by giving us a whole new vocabulary to talk about its social network: “Circles” and “Hangouts” and “Sparks.” But rarely, if ever, does this kind of board-room-made slang catch on. In fact, most of the time, it simply helps the service more quickly dig its own grave. Such a fate seems inevitable for Google+.
Google+ means profile management overload
If Google+ does start to gain users, chances are most people won’t make a clean break with Facebook (or Twitter) and move exclusively to Google+ in one fell swoop. Instead, they’ll manage both at the same time. And that’s a lot of extra work. It’s made even more cumbersome because of Google+’s central feature, Circles. With Circles, users can easily separate their contacts into useful groups, which allows them to share some things with some people and not with others. Sounds good, right?
Problem is, sorting through everyone you know — and in many cases, this means hundreds of people — plus coming up with the different Circles can be a major pain in the pajamas, especially if you’re still dealing with messages, and updates on an entirely different website. Google could, if it wanted, suggest people to place into different Circles, since the company already knows so much about who people communicate with and how. But for whatever reason, they’ve chosen to leave the helpful feature out. So until they add it, this extra level of profile management remains a major setback for Google+.
Google already missed the buzz boat
Google surely thinks it’s made a smart move by making Google+ invite-only. It allows engineers to test the service with real users — something they failed to do with Buzz — and make the needed tweaks and additions before calling the product done. It also builds in some of the exclusive cool factor that Gmail was able to generate in the beginning. The same exclusivity also helped Facebook so quickly become what it is today (remember when Facebook was only for college students?).
Exclusivity is, however, a risky gamble. Yesterday, everyone who happened to be paying attention wanted a piece of the Google+ action — and nearly none of them got it. That right there can turn people off for good. Add in a significant wait time, and the enthusiasm level may have tapered off to a place where many of the people who could have been relied upon to populate the site (something that’s vital to a social network) just won’t bother. Or they will bother, but think of it as exactly that: a chore.
Feeling a little more optimistic about Google+? Check out five reasons why Google+ will succeed from dueling columnist Jeff Van Camp.
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