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, Van Camp looks on the positive side with five reasons Google+ is positioned to rocket to the top. For a grittier take on the challenges Google will face, be sure to check out Couts’ five reasons Google+ will fail.
There are plenty of reasons to write off Google’s first full-fledged foray into social networking. Perhaps you already have a Facebook account; maybe you have seen Google screw up social one too many times; maybe you just don’t like Google. Indeed, the company has been dipping its feet into every conceivable market it can, from email to smartphones to browsers to music streaming to television to Internet-only desktop computers and even home appliances. Sometimes it seems like the company has a massive case of ADD. I do not argue against this possibility. However, if Google is ADD, Google+ is what happens when it loads up on Adderall. The new social network is the biggest concentrated effort Google has ever undertaken in concert, requiring a good portion of the company to work together in unison to make it work. If Google can learn to be social, maybe we can give it one more chance. Here are five reasons why Google+ may actually succeed and carve out its own social networking niche.
It’s simple and easy to use
Early impressions from those in the beta have been largely positive. Commenting on the +Circles feature, which allows you to easily separate your friends into different groups like “college buddies” or “work friends,” the BBC praised the new system as one that is “easy and intuitive, and makes you think about how you communicate with the different layers of your social life.” Mashable had a similar opinion after using the social network for a day, arguing, “Google+ isn’t overwhelmed by its many features. It’s easy to navigate and its icons speak for themselves. After a few minutes of exploring, I quickly got the hang of it.”
Impressions of the interface were also decidedly positive. “In general we thought the service borrowed some good ideas from the reigning king of social networks, Facebook, but also offers some cool new approaches to sharing content and managing privacy,” Mashable opined. “In short, Google+ is a solid start to an insurgent social networking platform that is sure to be enhanced rapidly over the coming months, and could soon offer a solid alternative to Facebook.”
At least from a usability and visual standpoint, Google finally seems to have hit the mark. The social network’s menus and sections appear to be simple to understand and easy to navigate.
Google has learned from Facebook
Facebook may be the lone giant on the social hill now, but its climb to the top involved a lot of smart planning and calculated feature decisions. While rivals like MySpace focused on pretty customization and music integration, Facebook took a completely different approach, locking profile designs down, giving everybody a big blue page. Instead of visual customization, every new feature Facebook has opened up new ways to communicate and share with friends. First it was the Wall, which let friends write on each other’s profile pages. Early on, you could actually doodle on each other’s walls as well, but Facebook eliminated this functionality. Instead, it focused on opening up even more ways to communicate: groups, event invites, photos, photo tagging, the news feed, notes (blogs), geotagging, interest tagging, games, Likes. All of Facebook’s efforts are intended to make it easier and more fun to stay on Facebook and communicate more. Google seems to understand this.
Google+ is launching with a locked-down, simple design and many of the features Facebook has made standard issue for a social network, but it’s also launching with several new ones, all aimed at making communication easier, more fun, and more effective between friends.
Its has defining features
The social network is launching with six core areas:
- Profile + Circles: You have your own profile, of course and you can invite friends, but Google+ also has the added ability to easily group friends together in a detailed or haphazard way. Once grouped, you can communicate with entire members of each group separately or together or any which way you please.
- Stream + Sparks: This is Google’s version of the News Feed, but it can be filtered in more ways than Facebook’s feed, even allowing you to share “sparks” or special interests you have (like my love of movies and tech, for example) with friends who are interested in your obsessions.
- Hangouts + Huddle: Facebook added chat, but Google is taking it a step further, allowing as many as four people to have open video chats with one another and just hang out with one another. Huddles offer a chat client for mobile and Web users to chat with one another, if text is your thing.
- Photos: Google is working on integrating its Picasa photo service directly into Google+, allowing you to take a photo on your phone and have it auto upload to a private section of your profile, where you can unlock it to share with everyone at your leisure. Without saying it, Google just launched a full cloud-based photo storage system for Android and iOS (Google+ is pending approval from Apple, but will be on the App Store soon).
All of these features are designed to enhance and improve communication. As I said above, Google has learned from Facebook and built on that knowledge.
It’s integrated everywhere
I just detailed the core parts of Google+, but the best part about it may be how tightly every Google product will tie into it. Imagine finally being able to properly share links in Google Reader, or better manage contacts in Gmail. Hell, maybe Buzz can finally be fixed and moved out of Gmail, as can chat. Now, when you’re logged into Google, the top bar will house more of your important information, freeing up each of Google’s many services (like Gmail) to contribute to, but not be drowned by, the new social network.
More than 100 different Google services are being tweaked or launched to better integrate visually and functionally into Google+. More services will be integrated in the future as well. Imagine how cool a fully integrated social Google Music service could be. Or maybe a Google Docs system where you can easily collaborate with your friends (Google Wave with a purpose).
Yes, it is a social network, but it’s so deeply tied into everything else Google is doing that it’s almost a rethinking and relaunch of Google itself. With +1 and other features, even Search will begin to feel the impact of social results. There is enormous potential in this, but it will be up to Google to make sure it retains its integrity and open nature as it begins to operate its own social network.
Google knows it needs to get this right
Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Health…Google has a lot of big social failures on its books. It knows this, but it is also convinced that it has to get social right if it’s going to continue to lead the industry and innovation in the future. Wired has a great article that delves deep into Google’s mindset approaching Google+, and it knows that social networking is its Achilles’ heel. All of its services are hurting because it hasn’t tackled this issue.
“To grasp the significance of this for Google, you must get past a corporate quarantine and catch a glimpse of the giant hand-painted mural that greets those very few visitors granted access to enter to the fourth floor of Building 2000 on the Google campus, which was an early hub of the initiative,” writes Steven Levy, author of In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works And Shapes Our Lives. “The mural has been there for a year now. On first glance, the artwork, on a wall facing the two elevators, is a frightening mash up of a J.M.W. Turner painting and a storyboard for a scene from The Perfect Storm. It depicts a tumescent oceanscape, dominated by a wall of surf that is about to upturn a pitiful sailing ship…The massive wave symbolizes the ways Google views the increasingly prominent social aspect of the web — as a possible tsunami poised to engulf it, or a maverick surge that it will ride to glory. Beirstadt’s turbulent vision is the perfect illustration. ‘We needed a code name that captured the fact that either there was a great opportunity to sail to new horizons and new things, or that we were going to drown by this wave,’ Gundotra said last August, when Google first showed me a prototype.”
This is why Google chose the code name “Emerald Sea.”
Google is convinced that people and communication represent the next great leap in the Internet and in search. Without it, the company feels that it will fall behind. Because of this, it is rolling out Google+ in perhaps the most cautious, slow, and deliberate way it possibly can. Google has a lot of projects that it starts and abandons, but when it sticks with something, it often succeeds. For now, I’d like to think Google+ could be the next Android or Gmail for Google, not its next Orkut.
Feeling a little more skeptical about Google+? Check out five reasons why Google+ will fail from dueling columnist Andrew Couts.