Google+, other than something that makes a mess of punctuation, is the latest social offering by the mighty Google after the failure of Buzz (AKA The Twitter-Killer) and Wave (nobody knows what this was). This has been touted as the next big thing, a Facebook-killer, and as with anything to do with Google, comes with a lot of hype and hoopla. Here’s a look at what it is and what it’s not and perhaps what it aims to be.
We all understand how difficult it is to wean a generation off from Facebook and on to a new offering unless there is some serious differentiation involved. So, Google has its task cut out and how does it fare? Let’s check out some of it’s well-advertised features –
1) Circles: Nothing more than a circular version of Facebook’s “Lists” feature. Now before I am violently accosted by raving Google fan-atics, I understand that “Circles” are useful in segregating your “friends” in mutually isolated containers so that you can force-feed your latest updates.
While interesting in concept, it’s not that well-implemented. Basically, when you write a post, you have to select the circles you have to share it with – by typing out their names (of course with Google+’s assistance – see what I mean, when I said it messes up punctuation?) or from a drop-down list –
Of course, one can envisage the problems with such an arrangement. Imagine you have too many circles – which is bound to happen. I have circles for Acquaintances, School Friends, College Friends (3 different ones), Work friends, etc. Each time having to choose is a nuisance, especially if operating from a mobile device!
The Circles page itself is cumbersome to navigate –
As you can see, it’s a mess. Facebook just needs to add it’s “Lists” option to posts and it’s as good or better than Google’s version.
2) Hangouts: While admittedly a nice concept, I am yet to try this one out. You can do video-chats with up to 10 persons and I find this unwieldy enough in real life, so I cannot understand the viability of this feature. Still, a very handy feature and well-implemented.
3) Sparks: It’s just Twitter trending under a different name.
One wonders if these features are enough to convert a sizeable portion of the 750 million+ patrons of Facebook. It is clear to see that these features are an evolution of existing Facebook features and whether a mere cosmetic change in these features is sufficient, is up for debate.
Of course there is the curious nature of the name “Google+”. Google sees it as an extension and unification of all its services – Docs, YouTube, Mail, Reader, etc – most of which are beta-grade stuff, which is often a pale imitation of stuff that already exists – http://www.timacheson.com/blog/2011/feb/imitations_of_popular_tech_products or services which are not recommended for professional use (as Google themselves advise – http://www.engadget.com/2011/07/07/google-recommends-that-businesses-hold-back-for-now-says-curre/). This presents a unique predicament for the end user in terms of the current trend of companies trying to lock the user in their ecosystem, but that discussion is for another day.
The lack of features and the general pre-launch feel of the service may be dealt with during the actual launch, but so much depends on the success of Google+ that it may make or break Google. Even their only truly successful product – the search engine, stopped innovating (and started borrowing from Bing) a long time ago. New paradigms of Social search, as demonstrated in Bing seem to have woken up Google to the far-reaching importance of social networks and clearly Google+ is an attempt to play catch up to that. But, saying you “+1’d” something doesn’t roll off your tongue the same way as saying you “liked” something. This might also prove detrimental to Google+’s cause.
As it stands, Google+ is worthy social network for a new user (a rare specimen indeed), but it presents little value to existing Facebook users who will also get the benefits of association with Skype, Microsoft and integration into a budding mobile ecosystem – The Windows Phone. From the end-user point of view, one can only hope for success of both Google+ and Facebook networks because monopoly of any sort cannot be a good thing. But, I hope Google can offer more than just “Facebook+” as our only alternative to the ubiquitous Facebook.
— Shishir Bhat