Early observations: With Google+, the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

Early observations: With Google+, the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

Summary: A few hours with Google+ leads to some observations about the service and what it will take to unseat Twitter and/or Facebook from their social thrones.


I spent a few hours last night throwing myself into Google+, the new social networking tool that was announced by the company this week. I was part of a select group that received early access so I could kick the tires a bit before the company opens it to the general public. And kick away I did.

I created circles and added started "following friends"  (to steal from the Twitter and Facebook lingo). Along the way, as I started to interact with different people, I made some observations about Google+, keeping in mind that the service's goal would be to take the social crowns away from the current leaders in social.

Here are some my initial observations as I used the service:

  • Unlike Facebook and just like Twitter, there’s no “friend/follower” reciprocation necessary. I can put someone I don’t know into one (or many) of my circles and they can choose to not include me in any of their circles.
  • Circles are just groups - and that could be both a bad thing and a good thing. Users are forced to place someone he or she chooses to follow into a circle first. That forces the user to start thinking about people as part of smaller groups, even though they can place someone in multiple groups.
  • Sharing with groups only, in concept, sounds like a good idea. But some of the best interactions I’ve had on Facebook have been with people who’ve commented on posts and pictures that would have never expected them to comment on. We may be selective about who we let into our inner Facebook circles, but once they’re in, they’re pretty much given an all-access pass. What could be a challenge for Google+ is getting users to think about how to share to specific groups only - that is, actually think about which followers won’t be able to see a specific post. (By the way, that makes it harder for moms and dads to keep an eye on what the teens are saying and posting online if they’re only sharing within certain circles.)
  • Hangouts feel like chat rooms from back in the old AOL days. In modern days, we’d compare them to Twitter #hashtags. Essentially, they bring people together based on a common topic of interest, which could be interesting during breaking news events, such as celebrity gossip, natural disasters or the latest from Washington and Wall Street. The video chat feature inside “hangouts” also opens the concept to some interesting ideas - such as people sharing live coverage from the scene of a news event.
  • Sparks, on the other hand, looks like it has some deep integration with Google Search, but made to feel more like Google Reader. Type in an “interest,” such as Obama Press Conference and you’ll get a list of news articles, YouTube videos and other results related to that query. This is what Google meant by always having something to read or watch about something of interest.  Mind you, this isn’t stuff that people in your circles are posting - these are search results. (Does anyone have any questions about how these results are determined, ranked and displayed? I think I just heard the widening of the FTC’s antitrust probe.)
  • I was able to find a number of people to connect with pretty easily. In the "Find People” box, I typed in “Mercury News” and came up with a list of Google+ users who had my former employer - the newspaper of Silicon Valley - in their own Google profiles. From there, I poked around to see who was in their circles, as well as whose circles they were in. (Remember: those can be two very different groups of people.) From there, I found some former colleagues and then some more former colleagues, as well as some tech bloggers whom I read regularly and some executives at companies that I track. They might have some interesting things to +1 (has it already become a verb?) down the road.
  • Google is going to need to open the invitation floodgates pretty quickly if it wants to hit the ground running and keep the momentum going around what we early adopters have started. Remember: Facebook started off slow, too, with access, initially just for college students, followed by people with a “work” email address and eventually to anyone with an “@” in his email address. To this day, my user name is a work email address for a former employer. Google can have a little bit of leeway as it takes a few spins around the block with a growing test user base, with eventually it’s going to have to open this sucker to everyone. It can’t afford to roll out slow and risk losing momentum they way it did with Buzz and Wave.
  • Is this why Google didn’t kill Buzz the way it killed Wave? I’ve added Google Buzz to TweetDeck and suddenly I’m empowered to post the same updates, links, photos and more to Facebook, Twitter and Google+, all with a single click.

And I've only scratched the surface.

It's ironic that the big buzz around Google+ would surface right around the same time that reports of MySpace's sale to Specific Media, an advertising network, for $35 million started to surface. MySpace, of course, had once been the pioneer in social networking - and this sale feels a lot like one of the final nails in the coffin. At one point, MySpace was the one to beat in social - and clearly Facebook and Twitter have done just that. Mind you, some will say that MySpace was a victim of bad business decisions - but in the end, it was unseated and replaced by something new.

I'm not saying that Google+ will be the one to unseat the mighty social Kings of today - but Google has obviously put a lot of thought into developing a strong competitor to the existing social leaders. And this is just the beginning. With more enhancements to the service and a mighty strong user base of people already tapped into the Google network via Gmail or YouTube accounts, Google has the potential to quickly build a membership just as large as Facebook or Twitter relatively quickly - and become a real thorn in the competition's sides.

Consider yourself warned, Twitter and Facebook.


Topics: Google, Social Enterprise

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  • Google: A Bunch of Propeller Headed Blowhards

    Yeah, get back to me when you see large and small businesses and mega corporations creating fan pages on Google+. It's just not going happen.
    • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

      @Delvardo If I was a marketing director, which I am, I could sell creating a fan page for Google+ in an instant. Google still is a HUGE target in marketing. Don't forget Adwords. Marketers will not ignore this with good reason and by the fact they love new things.
      • RE: RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing

        That's good to hear. It's bad enough companies no longer advertise their own websites but instead fakebook.com/company(product), but seeing companies devote themselves to a single closed social medium would be a real mistake.
    • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

      @Delvardo Hopefully, there are no fan pages in Google+. No business wants to give over its image, branding, and control to a third-party website (e.g. FB / Twitter).

      Businesses will want to have people "follow" the business right from the businesses' site, without any visible part of the page belonging to Google. If Google can do that and businesses feel they can reach people, businesses will get in line for the new system.
      • RE: RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing

        Why do so many companies give up their own identity now? I for one ignore any company that gives up their identity like that or requires me to join fb or twitter to get a discount or access to something.

        I hope, like you, that Google+ is smarter than fb and doesn't force companies to use the google brand instead of their own.
  • Invites available?

    Some users found last night that they had the option to invite others.

    If you do, I would really appreciate one :) alpha68 at gmail. Thank you!
  • I think you're looking at it from the wrong perspective?

    Instead of viewing Google+ as a competitor to Facebook and/or Twitter, you should instead look at it as a stand alone tool and use it for its unique features. Just as using Twitter doesn't replace Facebook, Google+ doesn't have to replace either of them.

    I say use the right tool for the job. Let's say for example you're working on a school project with a couple friends. Google+ in combination with Google Docs is something that the other two just don't offer. You only want to share your project ideas with your circle and have group chats and get streaming information related to your project's topic.

    I don't want a product to replace Facebook or Twitter, but rather one to do things the others can't.
    General C#
    • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

      @General C#

      x I'm tc
    • Totally agree with you!

      @General C#

      I don't see Google+ replacing FB or Twitter. I don't see it replacing FB because not everyone will migrate / use both. I don't see it replacing Twitter because they provide different functions (in the same way that FB & Twitter do). But as you say I certainly will have a lot of use for it for collaboration (as I did with Wave).
  • Privacy matters

    If they take privacy very seriously then they will def. open gates to many users unlike fb
  • Re: Social Giants hard to take down...

    With so much personal information invested in Twitter and Facebook, at this stage, its anyone's guess how Google+ will do in....
    While privacy and the user's feel of control is key, my opinion would be for Google+ to find compatibility with existing networks, able to sync updates across board...
    A feature rich environmental is also key in securing user interest, and, I believe this being a limitation in Facebook, a way in which the user's space can be customized to fit their preferences, i.e. themes, home pages... In a world of saturated innovation and ideas, the best business move is not to reinvent the wheel, but to beat someone at their own game....
  • Need an Invite

    I would really appreciate if you could send an invite to gagan.sethi@gmail.com
  • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

    Hi Sam,
    do you have any more invites you can send?
    There may even be a workaround on this TechCrunch Europe link http://tcrn.ch/j5ONoP.
    My email is smumani at gmail dot com
  • 1 as a verb

    Google are engineers. +1 means inc (in assembler and other places inc is short for increment). Google inc would have been better than Google +1. Can you plus one me? Can you inc me? What do you reckon? Maybe even use the inc.me domain for url shortening.....

    They need a better verb.....
    • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

      @011010100010100 I think Google is trying to be more 'friendly' in that. If you say 'inc', some people might hear 'ink' and so forth... And besides, +1 I think means in this case, to 'vote' for something. To 'one-up' it, in a way. Besides, +1 is faster to type (two letters) than inc (three letters) ;p

      Also, the more common way to increment is the ++ operator, not to use a "+1".
    • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

      @011010100010100 I don't see any +1. On my screen it's Google+, which can mean Google plus anything you want to add, or Google+much more, or lots of things.
      big red one
  • RE: Early observations: With Google , the social world could be gearing up for a showdown

    I don't get the invite only approach Google has with all of the social products. It made sense with gmail because guess what, it worked with everyone else's email from the get go. With Wave, I managed to get a pretty early invite and it ended up being me and one other guy that I knew playing with it for a couple days then forgetting it completely.<br><br>Facebook was limited in the beginning, but making it campus wide (even if the # of campuses was limited) was very, very intelligent. Those groups were tech saavy, social, and had something in common. Why not follow the same approach with +?<br><br>Members of social networks are notoriously fickle with MySpace being a shining example. However, I think people often underestimate how entrenched Facebook really is. My small town newspaper, local bars and coffee shops all have Facebook pages. I discover local events from friends I forgot I had (a potential issue with circles?). There are apps on every smartphone I can think of and more and more apps are being built on top of the Facebook API. Most importantly, Facebook has expanded beyond its walls with Like buttons and Comments showing up everywhere.<br><br>That said, I personally don't have much invested in Facebook. I don't upload a lot of photos and I might post a status update once every 4 or 5 months. My primary interaction is via Windows Live Messenger which allows me to talk to people who are online and see status updates if I care. Switching for me (more likely: adding another social network) would be trivial. If Google opens it up soon and bakes it into Android, who knows, maybe it's got a puncher's chance.
    Rich Miles
  • Too cautious

    I would love to try this....but after what I've seen Google do to some of their other things (like Wave) I'd be incredibly hesitant to try it. I would not want to make that my primary place only to have them shut it down in six months.

    This will likely suffer the same problems as Wave, with a limited release. The people who use it will have no one to interact with until others come over. Facebook had a limited release, but at least it was directed.

    I do love Google but I've questioned the way they've gone about things lately.
    • re:

      I think comparing + to Wave is a mistake. First, they have a very different target audience. Second, they have a VERY different purpose.

      Wave was not meant to be a social network. Let's also not forget that Wave was an attempt at introducing new technology (a new medium) with it's roots in combining Docs/Gmail/IM into a new product that was not simply a gmail/email replacement, but was open source (as it still is) so companies could setup their own Wave servers/environments. Killing Wave, to me, will go down as one of Google's biggest mistakes. I still think it has the potential to be the communications product of the future, far superior to a social network.

      As far as using invite only systems to introduce products, it's something Google hasn't perfected. They need a better way to continually release additional invites and quite honestly should be taking advantage of the existing fb & twit services to release more invites. What better way to get people interested than by using those already addicted to sharing what was on their slice of pizza for lunch.
  • I like it but I'm not sure will it live.

    People are too used to Facebook and they will find circle concept confusing, it will be "why didn't X received my msg?".
    First commend said something very important, which is big strength of Facebook (which I can't dislike more):
    "Yeah, get back to me when you see large and small businesses and mega corporations creating fan pages on Google+. It's just not going happen."