Gauging Google’s latest social media initiative
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver August 16-22, 2011 issue #1138 High Tech
Clichés abound: “Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a
path to your door”; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Both may represent feelings over at the GooglePlex, where Google, the
world’s most successful Internet search company, is hoping that
Google+, a fourth try at social networking, will succeed where previous
efforts Orkut, Google Wave and Google Buzz have failed.
The company hopes Google+ will appeal to Twitter users frustrated by
that service’s 140-character limit or the awkwardness of connecting
images or videos to tweets, and to Facebook users frustrated by the
difficulty targeting postings to only some Facebook “friends” and
unhappy with that service’s apparent indifference to privacy issues.
While I never got the point of Google’s earlier Wave and Buzz services,
Google+ offers easy-to-use improvements over Facebook and Twitter. The
best is “circles.”
While Facebook allows users to create groups of friends, most users
haven’t figured out how to do that. Google+, by contrast, makes
creating circles and assigning followers to them straightforward – and
a basic part of the interface. Each time a user posts, she or he is
asked what circle(s) should receive the message.
Users have control over what personal information is shared with each
circle: friends and family get to see my phone number; acquaintances do
A business owner could create circles for customers or suppliers, for
specific product lines or marketing campaigns, with different posts
targeted for each.
Facebook “friending” is a two-way street: each sees the other’s posts.
Google+ is more like Twitter with followers instead of friends: I
follow you, you choose whether you want to follow me.
A Google+ user can invite email or social network contacts to join the
service and follow her or him; people who don’t join can still be sent
postings as email messages but will be unable to contribute to the
online conversation. Since you can post long entries, easily add photos
and video and optionally make posts “public” – searchable on the web –
Google+ can become a blogging medium.
But it’s more; you can post a message to a single person, making it an
email replacement. Post a message to your customers or employees,
making it a business newsletter replacement. Post a message to all your
circles, making it a Twitter replacement – without that service’s
limitations. But that’s not all.
“Sparks” is Google+ speak for topics of interest. Pick a featured topic
or search for a topic of choice to see what’s been posted – and made
public – on that topic. You can “pin” that spark onto your personal
list, making it easy to return again and again. More Google+ speak:
“hangouts.” Instant video-conferencing for up to 10 participants. The
person speaking is displayed in the big window in the centre.
If you leave Facebook or Twitter your data disappears; Google+ instead
has a “data liberation” tool that lets users take their data with them
if they choose to leave.
Nevertheless, it’s not clear whether the world is ready for another
social media service – even a better one. In the first three weeks
following its June 28 launch, Google signed on some 20 million users.
Facebook, however, boasts over 750 million. And while visits to the
Google+ site soared over those first three weeks, both visits and
average time on site dropped the following week as users found that
there wasn’t a critical mass of either contacts or conversations. That
made Google+ seem like a pub without many other customers. (Note that
Facebook is also facing a shrinking user base, at least in the U.S.,
Canada and the U.K.)
Google+ is, as I write, a beta; for now, you can’t just sign on – you
need to be “invited” by a current user. Personal accounts only, no
businesses need apply. And real names only. If you’re interested in
trying this would-be Facebook/Twitter-killer and don’t have anyone else
to invite you to the party, drop me a line. You’re all my “friends,”