Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or camping) for the last two weeka, you’ve heard by now that Google has entered the social networking game with a new service called Google+. Chances are pretty good that you learned of their effort via that other service from some friend of yours proclaiming they’ll be migrating to Google+ in the near future.
While it might be a tad premature to call Googl+ a Facebook-killer, it it does show a great deal of potential. If anything, it is clearly the best alternative to Zuckerberg and Co. that exists. Detractors and Google critics will quickly point to another major release in the Big G’s history that was supposed to change communication and collaboration forever, Google Wave. These folks will undoubtedly try to classify Google+ in the same category as Wave and proclaim it a dead service walking. Even as rumors put Google ready to announce early numbers (said to be around 5 million), critics will be quick to remind us how excited the masses were in early days of Wave.
I’d like to attempt to address the criticisms with five reasons why Google+ will not suffer the same fate as Google Wave. These are the first few things that come to mind when trying to read the tea leaves of Google’s moves over the last couple of years.
Thinking mobile on day one
One of the biggest hurdles standing between Google Wave and mass adoption was the lack of a mobile friendly version. In an era when Android was beginning its rapid ascent, this rogue arm of Google was forcing users to go to a desktop client if they wanted the best experience. Sure, you could suffer your way through on select devices with select versions of Android, but even then the experience was mediocre at best. Wave demanded quite a bit of its users computers and would slow down and stutter with more than a handful of people actively participating.
Of course Android wasn’t available on as many devices as it is today, and not of the handsets at the time could match today’s dual-core super phones. Google Wave could probably run decent on today’s smart phones and would probably translate nicely to tablets, but we’ll never know for sure. Google+ works great on phones today and only gets enhanced by larger screens and a full web browser. The version you see on a phone never feels like it has been stripped down just to make it mobile friendly. Nothing feels removed or missing in order to get it in your pocket, yet the desktop version is just a bit better overall. At least until Google releases some APIs and developers jump all over it. Which will happen, you know it.
Even Google Buzz, which has been called a “dead service walking”, for a while now, seems to be going away. And if it’s not going away, it’s getting rolled into Google+. The recent Google Maps update (5.7) shows us that Buzz could easily be replaced with the ability to share with circles. Instead of sharing everything with everyone, Google+ circles would make it so that you shared specific items/check-ins/photos with whoever you choose. I imagine that Google Latitude and Google Places could be quickly and smoothly integrated into Google+ as well.
It makes sense quicker
Here’s a litmus test for how fast you could figure out Google Wave – describe it to someone else, without showing them. Now, do the same for Google+ and watch how much quicker you can get your point across. Using Wave truly was a simple and extremely effective way to collaborate on documents, ideas, and outlines. We used it for the back end of AndroidGuys for the better part of 2009-2010 and will, on occasion, run a few items through it today. Once you understand it and how it works, it’s fantastic. The problem is that people are impatient and don’t want to learn something if it takes a bunch of time, especially when they view it with skeptical eyes. “This is supposed to replace email, huh? We’ll see about that...”
Google+ is considerably quicker to pick up and learn. I’m willing to bet that many of you have already requested an invitation, been approved, registered, and started using the service (a lot) in the span of less than a week. I’m also willing to bet that many of you have told others how cool it was and that they need to come over right away. Google+ has the feel of a more open, social client that appeals to the average user types. Contrast that with Google Wave and its perceived business application and use case. Which one would you be able to convince your aunt to use?
People want a Facebook alternative
Face it. You like Facebook but you wish there was something else. Even with a billion users (almost a real number) now, people would love for someone to offer something better. In a time where the big Silicon Valley players are Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, the public takes notice when one steps foot on another’s playground. When one of the big boys starts breathing down the neck of on one or more of the others,we love it. Why? Because it pushes innovation forward. It’s an “adapt or die” world and if you’re not moving forward with new stuff, you’ll get passed by quickly. Oh, and if you say that Facebook is too big to die, then I will remind you of Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo!. Each of these was once so large that the idea of them becoming irrelevant or losing their grasp seemed laughable. Again, this is not to say that Google+ is going to “kill” Facebook. My hope here is that each forces the other to evolve and keep innovating.
Looking back at Google Wave, it was full of promise and potential, but it was not something people wanted. It wasn’t a replacement for something they used every day. Okay, email doesn’t count. As Facebook thumps their chest and announces the 750 million users number, a sizable percentage of its base is ready to move on. The timing for Google+ couldn’t be better.
More social, less collaboration
Fundamentally, the two platforms in Wave and Google+ are not all that dissimilar. At their cores, each is designed to bring people together to share and work in tandem. Each lets users create groups to communicate with, share ideas, links, videos, pictures, etc. However, once you dig just beneath the surface the difference become obvious. The difference that is its approach. Spend ten minutes with Google+ and one can see that it lends itself to broadcasting messages and ideas, recognizing (+1) others, and a general sense of community. Google Wave, by contrast, felt more “collaboration” than it did “social”. While we used Wave for the backside of AndroidGuys for quite some time, we did not expand beyond the business side. Try as we did, we just never used the tools to share vacation pictures or suggest new places to hang out.
Google+ is presented in a much simpler package and comes at a time where more people are mobile than ever before. If Google is smart about it, they’ll tie in Latitude, Places, and other social services as quickly as possible. Done right, Google+ would not only make the best home page on a web browser but it could be the most often used app on an Android phone.
Potential integration with other apps and services
I’ve touched on this throughout the other four points but I’ll add a bit here. It would not take much to turn Google+ into a singular hub of all things Google. Picture seeing a map of friends and their locations as well as photos and Buzz-like information on the welcome screen. Perhaps a list of new YouTube videos that have arrived since you last checked in. Google Voice, Gmail, GTalk, and Google Reader. Any one of these could be tied into Google+. Maybe it could offer you personalized app recommendations from the Android Market. How about all of this stuff? I like the idea of letting the end user decide just how much or how little they have at their fingertips.
Can you imagine a “Pure Google” experience like this? I sure can.