Google has often competed in markets it had no long term interest in participating in, just for the sake of drawing attention to or advancing a specific area for the overall benefit of search. That is not the case here. Personal data is sorely needed for search to evolve to the next level and deliver results that are more relevant to individual needs and interests. Google is late to the game and badly needs a social win.
When Facebook crept up and stole MySpace, it was still early. Facebook realized the value of real friends vs an endless accumulation of connections to folks you did not know. Much has happened within social platforms since. Geotagging, e-commerce, currency, gaming, the ability to follow strangers sans-permission, targetted advertising, predictive search and the beggining of what is now evolving towards advanced government regulatory intervention surrounding the often gray areas of privacy.
In other worlds the ‘Beta’ period for social is over. Folks on all sides have deep experience and opinions as to how the tools work along with expectations as to how they want to engage with them. The players involved have deep pockets and influence and one could argue that the features listed above are pretty much becoming the greens-fee – a commodities list easily replicated.
So, what matters most? The size and quality of community. Facebook is larger than most countries in population. In order for a citizen of any country to want to immigrate over to that of another, you need a combination of ‘things are pretty bad at home’, combined with ‘have you seen what you can do over there?’ in order to feel as if your life will be infinitely richer and better tied to your community in order to justify defection or the need to carry multiple passports.
While Google+ is growing quickly, it posseses none of these qualities. Certainly not in functionality after the latest Facebook developments, nor in quality of voice. Most active users are those of us in the industry talking to ourselves. A great tool for us, but as the general population comes on board I become embarrassed for having invited my friends after having heard too many of them tell me they ‘don’t get it’, and that the conversations are not relevant to them. Now, while that may change, there is still not enough reason to immigrate and carry 2 passports. For most folks 1 is already too much to manage…let’s not forget about LinkedIn or Twitter.
To my next point, who are you to be on Google+? As people, we naturally like to express the many different sides of our personality depending on where we are. From the langage we use, to the tone of our voices, work and play call for and bring out differenct sides of us. There are many other instances too; think about gaming and our creation of avatars, or our foray into finding the perfect mate amdist online dating communities. While circles was and still is a great concept allowing us to broadcast or speak to specific groups of people, I’ll argue that it becomes very difficult to manage all the complex sides to our personalities meant for work and play within one community. Facebook has also now greatly enhanced, and copied, circles via it’s own smart lists. Google+ forces us to generalize our own brand as we cannot easily separate our different personas.
Google has approached Google+ in the wrong way. It’s gone top-down and sought to replicate and one-up the tools of current competitor communities. What it should do, is capitalize on what it has that the others do not have. Search data. If it could build a social graph reverse engineered to advance it’s prime goal of organizing the world’s information, we may just all get a personalized version of that information and have a better reason to join.
For a more detailed analysis and additional viewpoint read this post from Mathew Ingram at GigaOM.