Is Google+ about to transform the Web?

Is Google+ about to transform the Web?

Summary: After multiple belly-flops in social, Google might have hit the target with Google+. See why and how it could impact the future of the Web.

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This is the way Google always wanted social networking to work, and this time the company may have pulled it off.

Google's previous social attempts have been unmitigated train wrecks, if we're being completely honest. Open Social failed because Google couldn't get Facebook and other social networks to buy into the idea of a shared social identity. Google Wave missed the target by not being useful enough to attract any users. Google Buzz freaked people out by naively overstepping its bounds on privacy.

So, when Google unveiled its latest social experiment last week -- called Google+ -- I was extremely skeptical. Still, Facebook is so malignant in terms of privacy and such a mess to use and configure that I was more than happy to give Google+ a try. I just expected that it would be a speed-dating relationship like most of my product reviews and destined to last no more than a few weeks at the most.

Damn, was I wrong. After almost a week, I fully expect this Google+ thing to turn into a long-term relationship. I mean, we're not buying matching workout suits or anything yet, but this is definitely more than just a crush on the hot, new thing.

To start, Google+ is what Google calls a "field trial" -- a fancy way to say that it's still in beta. For now, it is open mostly to technology industry insiders and the press. Google reasoned that since reporters were going to be writing about Plus anyway, they might as well let them kick the tires. Wise move.

Vic Gundotra, Google's SVP of Social and the head guy in charge of Plus, said, "We chose the initial seed very carefully. We wanted a lot of diversity, so we have people that represent over 42 of the world's languages... We're trying to really test the product, make sure that we meet people's privacy expectations, that the systems are working, [and] that we can scale. We'll slowly grow that initial seed as we're ready."

The other Google executive running the Plus project, Bradley Horowitz, added, "Field trial is the right term. That's not a euphemism. There's a lot of rough edges in there and a lot of learning we have to do. The feedback we got in the first 24 hours is tremendous."

Even with its rough edges and without the masses of humanity having access to Google+, the core experience is pretty powerful, and it's easy to see where Google is going with this.

As I wrote over the weekend while diving into Google+, the most attractive part is how easy it is to find, add, and organize your friends (I cited that as the main reason you won't hate Google+). The friend issue is the heart of all social networks, although it's so obvious that it's often overlooked. In fact, Twitter still isn't very good at it, Facebook is a little better, but both of them now look like neophytes compared to the way Google+ does it.

The friend feature on Google+ is called "Circles," and it turns out to be an intuitive mashup of friending (from Facebook) and following (from Twitter). Circles are basically sets of friends that you can drag and drop into groups, mirroring your existing social circles -- Family & Friends, Colleagues, Local Techies, etc. -- rather than just the one big lump of friends you have on Facebook that can result in moments of "worlds colliding," since you have to share all of your updates with all of your friends. On Google+, you can selectively send updates to different circles, and you can quickly click between the news streams of your different circles.

You can also make circles for people you don't necessarily know but are interested in following their updates (e.g. Tech Journalists, Famous Engineers, Web Celebrities, etc.). This is where Google+ echoes Twitter, because people don't have to follow you back in order for you to add them to one of your Circles. At that point, you'll see all of their public updates, and most of these folks make the majority of their updates public in order to be seen by more people (it's the whole social media narcissism meme, and it has already transplanted itself on Google Plus).

The real killer feature to Circles in Google+ is how easy it is to find and add friends. Everywhere you see a user's name or avatar you can simply mouse over it, click "Add to Circles," and then select which circle to add them to. On Twitter, it took me about three years to find about 200 really interesting people (mostly in technology and the media) worth following. It took me less than three days to find that many on Google Plus. Of course, most of them are the same people, so Google+ has the advantage of speed by letting us quickly re-coagulate our existing social graph on the new service.

I'm not predicting Google+ will replace Facebook and/or Twitter. This will definitely not be a zero sum game. Facebook has the most to lose from Google Plus, but it's going to be years before Aunt Jenny and your plumber show up on Google+ the way they recently showed up on Facebook (and it's possible they never will). All three of these social networks -- Facebook, Google+, and Twitter -- will still be going strong three years from now. People will gravitate to them for different reasons. They'll go to Twitter for news and to cyber-stalk celebrities. They'll go to Facebook for private networking, water cooler chats, and games.

So, where will that leave Google+?

I'm glad you asked, because that's the real point here (sorry to bury the lede). To start, Google+ is mostly going to be made up of digital influencers -- technology executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals, as well as social media mavens and technophiles in the press. Don't underestimate the power of this broad group. It's the same group that has catapulted Twitter and Foursquare into mainstream consciousness in recent years. A large percentage of this group is already in the "initial seed" of Google+ users, and they are the ones who have been raving about it for the past week. Look for a lot of them to decrease (but not eliminate) their Facebook usage and spend more time on Google Plus.

However, once you get past the technorati, then the story is going to get really interesting, because in the long run, Google+ is going to be less of a destination and more like the connective social tissue of the Web. I'm talking about social networking moving beyond a walled garden like Facebook or even a controlled ecosystem like Twitter.

Pieces of Google+ are likely to be decentralized with tentacles extending across the Web, the mobile Web, and various computer, smartphone, and tablet platforms. In some ways, Facebook and Twitter have started doing this already. They've put share buttons and boxes on external sites. They've launched client apps for multiple platforms. Facebook has even allowed sites to use the Facebook platform as their engine for user comments. However, the ultimate goal for Facebook and Twitter is to drive users back to their sites where they can be monetized.

Google has a different goal. It needs all of this social data about what people like, how they are socially related, what content they share the most, what context they share it in, and more in order to power its search engine and better organize the world's information. That means Google's social motivations have little to do with driving people back to plus.google.com. It's ultimately about enhancing search and not allowing Facebook to hoard so much of the world's social data.

That's why Google has already submitted it's iOS app to the Apple App Store. That's why it is already talking about opening up Google+ Hangouts (group video chat) to other video services and clients. It's why Google is putting little +1s all across the Web and in its search results (even though they aren't very well connected to Google+ yet). In order to satisfy its appetite for social data, Google ultimately needs Google+ to be ubiquitous across virtually all platforms -- both in terms of accessing the service from devices but even more so in terms of micro-connections to the service from third-party apps and sites.

Think of +1 integrated into mobile content apps, Q&A sites, blog comments, product reviews, music services like Pandora, etc. Now, imagine reading a product review, giving it +1, and then instantly seeing what all of the people in your "Tech Pros" circle have posted about that product -- all without leaving the site you're on. That's where I see Google going with this, and that's where this could permanently change social networking on the Web into a much more integrated experience. And if Google+ succeeds, it would likely force Facebook and Twitter to move in a similar direction.

Nevertheless, one big question here is how far will Google go with the open strategy? Can it avoid the temptation of giving Google+ pre-eminence to its internal platforms, such as Android, Chrome browser, Chrome OS, Gmail, and others? Will it build great apps and functionality for other platforms as well? For example, will it build a client for Windows Phone 7, even though Microsoft is its biggest rival in search? Will it work with Apple to make FaceTime (which has also promised open standards) compatible with Google+ Hangouts? Those are the kinds of litmus tests I'm going to be watching for.

Still, "Google+" is the perfect name for this, because it's ultimately an add-on and a force-multiplier to the existing Google experience, especially its search engine but also to the broader Web in general. Google+ will be a social layer on top of the existing Web. At least that's the vision. This time, Google might just pull it off.

When you make it into Google+, you can find my profile here.

Also read

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Browser, Google, Social Enterprise

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55 comments
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  • Google does live up to the hype

    this will be another long line of google failures. The only thing google transform are other companies' ideas.
    iPad-awan
    • Nice troll

      @iPad-awan <br>Guess I'll take the troll bait.<br>Yes, because no company has ever borrowed another company's ideas and improved on them...<br>Please take your shallow misinformed opinion to an Apple-lovers forum elsewhere.<br>Or, given your name, you can explain how that's any different from Apple "transforming" Microsoft's tablet ideas from way back in 2000-2001.
      simplicity14
      • I thought Google Wave already transformed it

        ... or at least that was what Google claimed two years ago.
        LBiege
      • The bloggers have used that same headline about everything Google releases

        @LBiege
        I don't know how many times "Google been ready to transform the web", but the truth of the matter is that we are still waiting.

        But you are right, Wave was going to transform how we live ;)
        John Zern
      • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

        @simplicity14
        Take your head out of where the sun doesn't shine, the iPad is not transforming MS's tablet idea, it is a whole new thing using multitouch to interact with it.
        Unfortunately or fortunately MS failed very badly in their idea of a tablet.
        As your name implied you are simple and simplistic in your assumption.
        AdanC
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan

      The whole social thing is a FAD, it's going to all change over time. Look at myspace, it was hot but now its dead. Same thing will happen with Facebook, Google+, iNaive (the future Apple social network), etc....
      mikroland
      • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

        @mikroland It's not so much that social networking itself is a fad but individual companies/ products such as MySpace, Facebook, etc. that are in one day and out the next.
        athynz
      • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

        @mikroland oh no, you just stole iApple idea of iSocial iNetworking iName.
        pupkin_z
      • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

        @mikroland

        "being social" is IMO a fad - because the people who espouse it as "being social" are dead wrong about why people use Facebook and other "social" services.

        It's not about being social. It's about keeping in touch with your friends, family, etc.

        Until they learn that distinction - yeah, they're gonna be fads while people continue to hunt for a service that actually understands why they use their services.

        It's not just about being social. And it's certainly not about being public. It's about keeping in contact with the people you know and care about. And no, Facebook doesn't get it yet, and neither do a lot of other people. In fact, I'd say that nobody at ZDNet really understands it either.

        And part of the reason why ZDNet doesn't understand it is because they use these "social" services as their own personal megaphones to get their message out - which is absolutely nothing like how the average person uses them.

        Someday, perhaps, they will get it. Until then, however, we're gonna remain in this pretty crappy state where the reasons why people use them are very much misunderstood.
        CobraA1
      • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

        @mikroland

        The social thing is a fad because to date their has never been a true social networking service on the net. Jason was spot on when he identified the differing "goals" of Facebook,
        Twitter, and now Google+. This is why they fail at being a true social networking service. Their goals are not to be a social networking service but to grow their user base so that they can commoditize it. When it comes to features and usability, their first priority is to their business model not to create a good tool for social networking.

        I think Google+ has a really good thing going with the Circles thing and I think it has some real potential to add a new form of information organization to the net but a social networking service it is not.
        techadmin.cc@...
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan

      You are right, hope your enjoy your Android update, aka iOS 5
      Michael_Martin
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan You know that Google is NOT the only company that does that - Apple is famous for doing much the same although they are usually very successful at taking ideas from other companies and combining those ideas into a streamlined whole.

      As for Google+ itself I'm adopting my usual wait and see method. If I like it and can get my FB friends on it then I'm good to go and I'll drop FB like it's hot. If I don't like it then I'll never use it and never recommend it. From the hype it seems like Google has a pretty neat product and I have to admit I'm pretty excited about getting my grubby mitts on it to see if it lives up to the hype.
      athynz
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan

      By golly, you're right!!! They just steal things! And I'm gonna steal the idea of stealing things and steal your writing style too... and there's nothing you can do about it either! NANANANANANA! :)

      PS. Trolling is childish
      techadmin.cc@...
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan <br>Two biggest thefts of ideas:<br><br>1. Mark Zuckerberg stole the Facebook idea and had to pay big bucks to the inventors...<br><br>2. Microsoft stole Google ideas and used them in Bing. They were incapable to copy everything, so Bing uses Google search in their search ranking... how low can you get.
      prof123
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan <br><br>How to Combine Your Facebook and Google+ Feeds<a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2388209,00.asp" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2388209,00.asp" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2388209,00.asp</a></a><br><br><br>Twitter in Google+ is next! <br><br>BRING IT ON!!!
      josephtatepo
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan

      How to Combine Your Facebook and Google+ Feeds
      http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2388209,00.asp

      Next is Twitter!

      Wow!!!
      josephtatepo
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      Who knows? Certainly this article provides no illumination. In fact, its impossible to connect the title of the article with the content.<br><br>Lets have a little look at several of the keystone statements of the article.<br><br>1. "Even with its rough edges and without the masses of humanity having access to Google+, the core experience is pretty powerful, and its easy to see where Google is going with this."<br><br>Really? And where is that? By the title of the article I would assume its going someplace that will literally "transform the web", but reading right through the article leaves no clue as to where this mythical place that transforms the web is.<br><br>2. "As I wrote over the weekend while diving into Google+, the most attractive part is how easy it is to find, add, and organize your friends (I cited that as the main reason you wont hate Google+)."<br><br>Well, this statement and the discussion in the article that follows explains that finding friends is quicker in Google+ than Facebook, it dosnt explain how this easy friend finding works. Its like a story about how the newest diet makes you lose weight without getting hungry without telling you how it does it. Due to the fact that we all know that what works well in life for many, some or just a bare few, the same thing sometimes works not at all for many others. Just saying something that sounds miraculous on some level dosnt always come close to panning out for the majority...so at least without explanation it dosnt mean much.<br><br>3. "Circles are basically sets of friends that you can drag and drop into groups, mirroring your existing social circles Family & Friends, Colleagues, Local Techies, etc. rather than just the one big lump of friends you have on Facebook that can result in moments of worlds colliding"<br><br>Yes. I like the sounds of that, and at least a bare enough explanation to indicate why its probably a good feature, even without explaining much of how it will work in such a way not to cause any new issues. Not that its likely to cause new issues, its just that its still a surface explanation and as such its just saying 'here is what its trying to do', without saying how EXACTLY it done to prove out its a simple effective feature that only adds to the experience without any new headaches.<br><br>But even if its agreed that this is a very sensible approach, I think it is, its so far from revolutionary it makes one wonder just how lame Facebook really is for not installing a feature that most people over the age of 13 soon come to realize on there own that makes things on Facebook a little tricky at many times without it. Its not genius, its not revolutionary and it has absolute zero with transforming the web. Not on its own or even with ten similar features that a 13 year old Facebook user could tell you can come in handy.<br><br>Further, if this is a relatively trouble free feature then it seems like a no brainer that Facebook will put its own version in action if they are even close to being awake at the switch. Again, so far removed from transforming the web, well...its just so far away from that, nothing more should need to be said about why.<br><br>Cont.
      Cayble
      • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

        Cont.

        4. " Pieces of Google+ are likely to be decentralized with tentacles extending across the Web, the mobile Web, and various computer, smartphone, and tablet platforms. In some ways, Facebook and Twitter have started doing this already. They?ve put share buttons and boxes on external sites"

        Good god. While that sound like its supposed to mean something...unless there is some more meat on those bones it dosnt relate in any way to "transforming the web". The last of the statement should even clue the clueless in, "Facebook and Twitter have started doing this already". It means that if Google in any way shows that Facebook and Twitter find out by way of Google+ that they are not doing it enough, they will simply do it more and probably put even more effort into doing it better. Always keep in mind when your dealing with simple "NON WEB TRANSFORMING" features like this, that the ones who have the overwhelming market lead do in fact have the advantage and will likely follow suit if it appears to be a better way to go.

        5. "Now, imagine reading a product review, giving it +1, and then instantly seeing what all of the people in your ?Tech Pros? circle have posted about that product ? all without leaving the site you?re on. That?s where I see Google going with this, and that?s where this could permanently change social networking on the Web into a much more integrated experience."

        Well, I don't know...I could certainly be wrong, but it feels to me that when I read this article that this may well be the point that Hiner was relying on to justify his sweepingly bold title for his article. But just read that and think about it and re-read this line"this could permanently change social networking on the Web into a much more integrated experience."

        Ya. It could, and it seems to me it would be a very nice and quite useful feature that has got to make its way into social networking. It should have been obvious for any social network that if they wanted to be more then only a more modern chat room for teenagers they would soon need some more sophisticated organizational utilities.

        I got into Facebook late, and to be honest, I only did so because I knew so many using it that I was constantly being hit with email notices by people I knew and cared about that indicated they were posting significant stuff there and they wanted me to see it and know about it. But right away, as soon as I seen what it did and what it was doing, I wondered right away as to why it wasn't going to be a case where I could simply maintain certain contacts in certain groups for certain information exchanges.

        I would hope most people can see why these kinds of websites would typically want everyone into everyone else's "MASH-UP" of contacts. The benefits for the website could be numerous. So when your the only game in town you go for what benefits you not necessarily what is best for the consumer, even if it makes uncommonly common sense. Like being able to group contacts for what is actually an information exchange service.

        But non of this, not a whiff, has anything to do with "transforming the web". At best one might say that "Google+ is about to bring an important and useful feature to social networking thats long been neglected"...also pointing out that this would NOT transform the web would have been optional, but accurate.
        Cayble
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @cobrA1

      Can I ask you how keeping in touch with friends and family is not "social networking"?
      bargeemike
    • RE: Is Google Plus about to transform the Web?

      @iPad-awan<br>Google has already transformed the web. Google Search, Chrome and Google Earth just to name the three biggest. Flops are to be expected among the successes. I trust Google a lot more than I trust Microsoft or Apple.
      shanedr