That Google+ is still in the stages where its users’ first posts are ‘OMG I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING’ is, perhaps, indicative that it is as yet too early to judge how the service will develop.
I like boxes to put people in…
But however premature the evaluation, it doesn’t seem clear who or what Google+ wants – and this to me is a problem, whatever stage the service is at. I was at university when Facebook came to the UK, and exactly the kind of user the social network was targeting. Much of its appeal was the fact that it was only open to certain networks – a master stroke. It wasn’t the elitism that was clever, but the fostering of niche communities. By the time Facebook opened out to any user with an e-mail address, the service had become too valuable for its existing users to utter anything more than a low rumble of discontent before continuing much as they had done before.
So being archetypal of the original Facebook generation, it feels quite important to be able to have a strong theme tying my social connections together. My experience on Twitter was similar; after two years on the service, it has become a valuable journalistic network. I don’t agree with GigaOm’s Marshall Kirkpatrick in all aspects of his review, but he says much the same thing:
….groups are the secret weapon of the social web. Anything that can increase the percentage of social software users who are actively curating dynamic, topical sources is a net win for the web and for the people who use it. List creation on competing services has been a mixed bag. It’s undervalued at Twitter and suffocated on Facebook.
Just not that many boxes.
Google+ understands this need for filtration, to some degree. If Facebook’s flaw is that it doesn’t let you filter enough, Google+ wants you to filter too much, too soon. The maniacal insistence on THE CIRCLES is simply confusing when I have no one to put in them, when I am simply getting my head around what kind of user will be on here to begin with. Presumably, my e-mail contacts. But my e-mail contacts are a motley crew of friends, colleagues, people I want to network with, and people I’ve never met. That’s similar to Twitter – but the difference is that I follow whoever I like on Twitter and then put them into lists as I navigate the service and the stream of information. I don’t try and pre-define the flow of that information, the way that Circles essentially wants me to.
Google+ needs to work out what it’s for
If Google is genuinely throwing down the gauntlet to Facebook here, then it needs to understand who would want to use it. Let’s not pretend it wants to be Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is ace – but the site’s still relatively niche, and its most valuable activity comes from a small core of loyal users.
Google, for all the innovation and creativity it encourages from its employee, has an unfortunate history of lacking vision in social media Speaking at a conference earlier this year, Google’s creative director in the UK was on the defensive about Google+ predecessor, Wave. His first point was that Wave was “ahead of its time”. The second, that sometimes “at Google, sometimes we don’t know if we create things for [the public], or for ourselves”. Telling, no?
That’s certainly not to say Google+ will fail. It’s better designed than its social predecessors Buzz (unfortunately, Buzz still lives in Google+), and has much, much more focus than Wave. The service might also simply better suit those who have not been indoctrinated with the ‘Facebook way’.
There are also a number of nifty sub-features which I can see taking off. Huddle is a mobile app which is essentially Google’s answer to WhatsApp, an extremely popular little mobile messaging service. Hangouts showcases Google’s video chat capabilities, which might threaten the new Facebook-Skype partnership (not least because the new Facebook Chat layout looks, frankly, pants).
It’s early days – but at the moment, Google+ feels like hard work. In its launch post, Google says:
Today, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools.
In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.
You’re not there just yet, Google.
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