Thursday, July 28, 2011

Google +

I know it's been a while since I've posted, but I promise I've been thinking of the blog! I listfully look at my computer every night before I inevitably crawl into bed because life has been so busy. Today I finally got some time to jot down my thoughts about Google Plus! If you haven't checked it out at all yet, now's as good a time as any to spend a couple of minutes with the demo.

If you had two scoops of ice cream, let's call the flavors Facebook and Twitter, and you smashed them together but then you decided to share your concoction with that oddball at work you don't like for whatever reason, you'd have Google Plus. It takes the best from both worlds, but then it integrates with other services, even if they are competitors, via our old friend Google Buzz. Google Buzz was a half-baked Twitter-like experience from Google that all but the most devout Google fans were quickly turned off of because of the several issues Google simply didn't think through. What's different between Google and some other tech companies is that a lot of people there tend to think the same over time. I'm not saying they're not smart people, but without natural discord you can't develop the ideas that appeal to a mass audience, and that's what I feel like went wrong with Buzz. With Google Plus, they took a different approach - they started it out as a very limited release (like back with Gmail and Google Voice) and are opening the floodgates over time so that they can iron out the kinks. This strategy, I feel, is working much better for them. It feels like not only did they learn from Google Buzz what people were really looking for, but they managed to fix user concerns very quickly before everyone and their mom started hearing about Google Plus.

So anyway, you might be wondering - why should you care about Google Plus? You've stuck with Facebook, in spite of Twitter and Google Buzz and whatever else - why jump ship? A friend of mine shared this (on Google Plus, no less), so I'm going to share it with you:

Pretty elegant way of putting it, isn't it? Google should definitely hire those people to help them pimp their products. At first, I totally agreed with what I think is the reaction of most people: why do we need another Facebook? The interface was a pretty big change from Facebook and there wasn't an app for it on my phone. To be honest, I really hated it. I was surprised at how quickly my opinion turned around of it though. The main things I liked is that it's the first social networking site I've seen that has really put privacy at the forefront and it has a clean UI. It's a well known fact in the security world that convenience comes at the cost of security and privacy, so it is an issue that whenever you share anything on Google Plus, you have to choose exactly what circles you want to share it with - but if you keep your list of circles small it's not such a big deal. Granted, it'd be better if there was a circle hierarchy but that's not hard to add in. I say that the UI is clean because, let's face it, Facebook has gotten too busy. It almost hurts my eyes now to go to the PC site - it's just too much. With Google Plus, as weird as it sounds, I just feel like it's a more laid back experience. Maybe it's just because I have less friends on Google Plus, but I'd like to think that Google had something to do with it.

Before I move on - there are a couple of other things I think Google Plus really got right. I love how you can share with people who aren't on Google Plus by just using their contact profile in your Gmail (i.e. just their e-mail address). I think it's smart that they just rely on e-mail for messages rather than creating a stupid hobbled way to send private messages. Another thing I like, which most people may not like, is that you don't have a wall for people to post on - they can only comment on what you post. This means people can't post immature things on your wall that you have to monitor so that your mom doesn't see them or something - you have full control over what people see (people can re-share what you've said, granted - but that's a risk in real life, too).

Press-wise, I've seen mixed things. I think the technorati (that's what I like to call the tech journalism celebrities, at least) are skeptical but appreciate the chance to start fresh since their Facebook friends list has really gotten out of control. There's still a few things to complain about though. There have been some stories about people having their Google Accounts totally deleted because of the name they're using on Google Plus. It sounds like there's a glitch in Google's algorithm for this, and it really sucks that there's not a good appeals process in place. Google has always had awful customer service, and that doesn't stop here, I'm afraid. ZD Net has a really good editorial about this. Google Plus still isn't ready for businesses to jump in and make their mark. I don't shed a tear for companies like Pepsi or McDonalds, but social networking sites are really great for helping promote local businesses and artists, and I do hope Google Plus makes way for them someday soon. Though they do have 20 million accounts so far, so it's a pretty strong start anyhow.

So Google Plus has an energized initial user base but also has had a few black eyes from the press - do they have what it takes to become a major player? I think they definitely do. The older I get the more pessimistic I become about technology (I'm not the wide-eyed optimist I was back in my older posts when I was in college), but something rubs be right about Google Plus. Google has had a number of misfires over the past few years, but I think this one just may stick. If anyone can compete with Facebook, it'll be Google Plus. I don't think they'll be able to overtake Facebook like Facebook overtook MySpace or MySpace overtook Friendster simply because Facebook has really hit critical mass now. However, I think Facebook has alienated its users enough over the years that Google Plus can really gain some ground, even if it ends up catering to more of a niche audience like Gmail. I think it's a really smart move for Google and I hope they really invest fully in making it a solid product. It clearly has a lot left that they can do with it (why can people on Picasa but not Google Plus not see the pictures I shared with them?), but I'm definitely impressed that they've managed to innovate so much so far. At the very least, it's nice to see someone rattle Facebook's cage a big, isn't it?

PS This is my 900th post. Happy 900th to me! :)