Why Google+ Will be a Big Win for Google (and the rest of us) [UPDATED]

[Originally Published July 19, 2011.  See current updates at end.]

Its always dangerous to make predictions, especially with Google, which tends to (1) garner an inordinate amount of breathless coverage for its every initiative and (2) reveal its true plans slowly while it plays for the long, long, term.  But I’ve been thinking about, reading about and messing about with Google+ quite a bit since getting my invitation a little over a week ago, and based on my observations so far, I am willing to venture that this one is going to be a biggie.  Here’s a baker’s dozen reasons why:

The “Other Agenda” Effect

Google’s real goals with Google+ are to protect its search advertising business and to force other social networks to open up their social graph to the Big-G’s search index.  Google doesn’t need to monetize Google+, so it will be less likely to be cluttered with ads and corporate facebook pages (or at least with stupid, ugly, blinky, bandwidth-hogging ones).  I say this to entrepreneurs all the time: never underestimate a market entrant who views success in your market as essential to their success in something far bigger and more important.  These entrants might stumble and blunder around a bit, and it is sometimes possible to out-maneuver them or thrive on the edges.  But it is almost never possible to out-spend them or out-last them.

Won’t Be Evil

They have made some dumb moves over the years, but Google, with its “don’t be evil” mantra, still has the best track record in terms of respecting privacy and openness – they have always offered excellent tools for extracting your data and contacts from their systems (in stark contrast to Facebook which is making every effort to prevent people from extracting or even backing up their friends, photos, posts etc.)

Family Affair

Google has a million other hugely popular and very well designed products ready to help bolster Google+.  They are in the process of rolling out a very nice Google+ interface to each of them.  Imagine nice Google+ tie-ins built into Android, Blogger, Calendar, Chrome, Docs, Gmail, Maps, News, Picasa, Google Search, Google Translation and Youtube.

Buttoned Up

Google’s +1 button is already everywhere – according to Larry Page on this week’s earnings call, it is already being served up as an actionable object 2.3 BILLION times a day – and soon enough it will be a very powerful aid in improving and personalizing your search results.

Videochat Done Right

Google+ offers a very cool videoconferencing feature called Hangouts.  They work very well (not perfectly, but it is still a field test) and the user interface is drop-dead simple.  You simply click the “hangout” button to broadcast to what ever circle(s) you want that you are looking to hang out, and anyone in the circle(s).  You can even have text chats on the side with participants, and you can all watch YouTube videos together.  Not only is this a fun way to stay in touch with friends and family, it will be a very useful business tool.  After fighting with the buggy Skype client for years, and now grappling with their new fee requirement for group calls, I am thinking Microsoft might have over-paid for Skype…  And because Skype uses a peer-to-peer approach where the participating computers do all of the work of maintaining the network and transmitting the calls, rather than utilizing Google’s massively powerful central server architecture, it will be hard for Skype to ever offer the same ease and call quality.


Hangouts don’t need a partner to get started – you can just start one and see who stumbles in.  Right after I first joined I saw that Google’s SVP of Social, Vic Gundotora was Hanging Out and I could have just joined right in (I didn’t – would have felt like a stalker – same reason I didn’t comment when Google CEO Larry Page shared his recent vacation photos with me (action shots of him kite boarding in Alaska if you must know – when the novelty wears off I suspect I will dial my stream down to a smaller group of more relevant people).

Fresh Start

There has been a lot of talk about people being burned out, bored, jaded and overloaded with Facebook.  Some people have declared Facebook bankruptcy and started a new account just to get rid of all the chaff in their friends list.  But along comes Google+ and suddenly drastic measures are no longer necessary.  People can ease over to Google+ in a slow thoughtful and deliberate way and wean themselves off of Facebook as they see fit.   There was a humorous post on this by Don Dodge entitled “How to Transfer Facebook Friends to Google+, but do you really want to?”.  Google+ is already one of the most frequently posted words on Facebook.  I predict we will see a rise in the number of people saying “Hey, I’m moving to Google+ – maybe I’ll see you over there.”

Rifle Instead of a Shotgun – Circles for Posting

Finally you can post things to precisely the group you wish rather than being required to send it to all your friends at once.  This makes Google+ a much more useful tool – you can divide people into circles according to how close they are to you, whether they are personal or professional, whether they share common interests, whether they are in your city, whether they have the same affiliations or are in the same groups and so forth – totally customizable.  And you can mix and match really easily.  It is very elegant-looking, well-implemented, and easy to use.  Compared to Facebook, it is a massive improvement.  (Though it must be acknowledged that Facebook’s approach was not an accident – by forcing everyone to share everything with all their friends, Facebook drives incredible traffic and user engagement – even new members with very few friends would still find some drivel to read and comment on when they logged on.  Stupid system, but genius stupid.)

Putting a Clamp on the Firehose – Circles for Reading

The reason I almost never log onto Facebook (or, to a lesser extent, Twitter) is that the stream is a river of boring, useless, crap for the most part (sorry friends – I am not talking about you – I am talking about my other friends).  And it got tiresome going through the multi-step process of setting the system to ignore posts from each offending party.  Now with Google+ Circles, there are two big fixes to this problem:  (1) posters have circles and so they *may* show some discretion about posting material only to relevant people (fingers crossed on that one); and (2) you can filter your stream so it only shows the posts from specific circles such as your family or close friends, or the buddies on your soccer team.  Ah… what you are hearing is the silence after a jackhammer stops.

Sparks Fly

The Sparks feature is a very cool and very convenient way to follow any topic of interest.  You simply type in a topic you are interested in, and Google+ feeds you not with raw search results, but with its best guess as to which articles and news items and comments might be of the greatest interest.  If you want to stay on top of the topic, you can save it to the left column with one click and it is always there for you, always updated.  It is a far better way to stay on a topic than having Google Alerts emailed to you.  As a web/browser/computer-based method, it is superior to other desktop/laptop alternatives (but still not better than an iPad-based solution like Reeder, Zite or Flipboard).

Twitter On Steroids

Twitter is an improvement over Facebook in that it allows for unilateral following, so you can draw links, recommendations and perspectives from a wide variety of people without having to request and receive an awkward bilateral friendship confirmation.  But Google+ is a big improvement over Twitter in that it allows the exact same kind of following, but it doesn’t limit you to 140 ASCII characters.  Google+ allows you to post lots of different kinds of stuff – longer form observations, photos, even videos, and everyone can join in and comment on it and discuss it in an actual conversation, rather than just retweet it.  Sure, you can still share it to your circles very easily just like a retweet, but you can also actually have a real conversation rather than a tweet war which is cynically designed specifically to be public and viral.

Great Photo Management

Instead of scattering them all over the place like Facebook or letting them float away down the stream like Twitter, Google+ does a great job with photos.  They are all collected in one place under a photos tab and presented in a very nice, tightly-packed mosaic, each with fly-over expansion and a clear title built out of clickable elements.  Loads fast, looks good, easy to use.  ‘Nuff said.

Public Speaking

For those looking to disseminate information or build personal brands, Google+ gives you the ability to mark any update as public.  Talk about search engine optimization – I suspect it is going to be hard to do too much better than neurally “implanting” a post right into Google’s brain by marking it public and slurpable into the Big G’s search index.

Late Adopters & Boomers

Although Facebook has 750 million users, there are an awful lot of people who just have not gotten comfortable with the whole “everything is public” paradigm.  These are people who view the idea of friending a colleague as unprofessional, publicly sharing a personal moment as weird, and “liking” a consumer packaged goods conglomerate as downright bizarre.  They feel much more comfortable with LinkedIn.  But the thing is, these people use Google TONS, just like everyone else.  They use it for search, for maps, for email, for video, maybe even for their mobile phone operating system.  These people will positively FLOCK to Google+ in droves, largely because of the privacy and granularity it offers.  And once they do, the sudden discovery of how cool social networking can be will cause them to spread it like wildfire amongst their demographic.

Fast Follower Advantage

I am always puzzled when entrepreneurs tell me their company is a winner because they have the “first mover advantage.”  Yes, if you can move so quickly and decisively into a market that you become such a de facto standard that no one can unseat you, you can control a market.  Great, go for it.  That is certainly what AOL thought they had.  And Netscape.  And Yahoo!  And Microsoft with Windows or nearly with IE6.  And of course Facebook thought so with the nearly billion users and billions in advertising dollars.  But first movers should always fear the fast follower who gets to sit back and watch what works and what doesn’t and jump in with a clean-sheet approach incorporating all the best of what has worked and avoiding the worst of what hasn’t.  You think Google might have learned a few things from watching Twitter and Facebook?  How about from screwing up Orkut, Wave & Buzz?  Me too.  Welcome to Google+.

Jump in, the water is warm.


Today on Techcrunch, Seth Sternberg, CEO of Meebo guest-posted an interesting analysis about how Google beat all the established search players to win search.  Seth drew strong parallels to the coming social wars and, while he stopped short of actually predicting that Google will use the same techniques to win the coming social wars with Google+, that is pretty much the take-away of his article.  It’s a good read.


From the September 29, 2011 issue of Business Week: Google+ U.S. Traffic Soars as Service Opens Up to Everyone.  Money quote:

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) — Google Inc.’s new social-networking service, an effort to lure away users from Facebook Inc., saw U.S. visits soar 13-fold last week after the site opened to the general public, Experian Hitwise said in a report.  The Google+ site received almost 15 million U.S. visits in the week ended Sept. 24, compared with 1.1 million the previous week, according to Hitwise, a research firm in New York.

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