I read through a fairly lengthy article on Wired.com this morning detailing the last year of progress in delivering the new Google + product. I haven’t tested the product yet so these are only my thoughts on how a superior product could compete with Facebook. (There’s an early and fairly positive review here.) After the failure of Buzz and Wave to make any kind of impact last year, launching a product that could compete with Facebook would be deemed a success. A lot of people point to these past failures as future indicators, but one would think a company as inventive and talented as Google would not continue to ignore past lessons in designing future projects.
Looking at the bones of the product and the information released so far Google is leveraging many of its biggest assets to ensure Google + will be a success. Not only will this have a knock on effect for Facebook, but also Twitter and Bing.
1. The Best Bits of Facebook & Twitter
Google+ has a stream of relevant content much like Twitter and the Newsfeed of Facebook. Much like the latter it will use an Edgerank type formula to bring more relevant content to you. Things like the +1 button, and your ‘circles’ of contacts will aid in this relevancy selection. But it must be pointed out how Google is leveraging the web in it’s favour, Google has indexed the web, Facebook hasn’t. Therefore Google can draw upon a much greater pool of information giving users more depth. There’s also an emphasis on photo’s, which is one of the most popular features on Facebook. However, I doubt Facebook will allow fans to easily export their photo’s to a rival service.
2. Features Facebook and Twitter Don’t Have
A lot of the focus is on how Google + will compete with Facebook, but it pretty much takes all the good points of Twitter too. For example ‘Circles’ are like Twitter Lists as Google explain;
Circles makes it easy to put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another, and your boss in a circle by himself – just like real life.
It makes you wonder why Facebook have made creating such groups cumbersome.
Another nice new feature is the Hangout – a video chat service that allows you to talk with your friends via video. This is something available via Gmail for sometime, but again not really on Facebook for some reason.
Huddle is a group sms text feature, Sparks seems like a type of Google Alert that finds stuff for you based on your interests.
As a way of encouraging people to use Google + there’s an Instant Upload feature which will send your photos and video to a private album. You can then decide who to share with from there. Facebook may have ring fenced older photo’s but if Google can include a post to Facebook feature wouldn’t uploading to Google + make more sense?
3. Privacy & Control
If there’s one issue holding back Facebook it’s privacy. By default everything is set to public, which is bizarre when you think about it. Perhaps a small portion of society want everything to be public, but the vast majority don’t. Even when launching new features, such as the recent facial recognition, it’s set to the setting that will annoy everyone the most. This isn’t just bad for users, it’s also bad for businesses looking to generate money from Facebook. I mean would you feel comfortable sharing credit card information with a platform that has continually violates your privacy? Probably not. Google is much more trusted in this regard and, if I am seeing this correct, you won’t need a Google + Business Page, (like the Facebook Page). Instead good content from websites will populate the stream directing people to brand websites.
4. Mobile Focused
Mobile is the future and in Andriod Google have a product that is continually growing in stature. There’s 500,000 activations per day, and that’s growing by 4.4% week on week. Throwing this onto those mobiles, (not to mention Gmail and Youtube) and you are looking at a lot of potential users. Of course this is an area Facebook could tackle, but would they have the resources to adequately develop a mobile operating system?
5. Less Advertising, More About People
Marketers won’t like this, but Facebook is a very spammy platform and it takes some digging to find content worth reading nevermind sharing, (even amongst friend updates). Google already has a significant revenue stream even without the success of Google +. Facebook doesn’t. There’s huge pressure on Facebook to monetise its product which has resulted in more adverts for users, an impetus on brands to get on Facebook regardless of being it good (or necessary) for their brand, and Facebook is testing out new ad formats – which may only add to the confusion of what is an advertisement on Facebook. In general people don’t like or don’t want advertising. Google + could, theoretically have no advertising. To the average person that’s an incredible proposition.
6. And for Brands?
While I say no advertising, Google will be under no pressure to monetise the service, but ads may appear at some stage. But this gives Google a distinct advantage over Facebook and Twitter. However, if there is little to no advertising what’s in it for businesses? Well for one, content in the stream will come from brand websites and not a Google+ brand page (ie. their version of a Facebook business Page). Information will be shared because it is good, which puts an emphasis on creating good content driven sites – and a focus on blogging.
In saying that people may still want their brand updates, so perhaps a way of subscribing to a more consumer friendly RSS feature might be called for.
7. Will My Friends use it?
Thats the big question for any social network, if your friends aren’t using it then why would you even bother? What Google are doing with Plus is incorporating your contacts into the service. So I could include my parents in a circle called ‘Family’, even though my parents may not even use Gmail, any content that gets shared with that circle will be sent to them via email. This is clever in one sense, no one is excluded even if they don’t use Google +. I’m sure Google will also use this as a way to drive awareness of Plus, but it also brings back nightmares of Buzz spamming my inbox. Which is something they need to get right from the get go. But it does make Facebook’s walled garden approach seem dated.
8. The Launch
A slow launch, using feedback to influence the product development as it’s opened up to more and more people. Sounds a lot like the launch of Facebook as it was rolled out across university campuses. Google know they have to get this right.
From early reports everything looks great, the product doesn’t seem rushed or half finished. Google have done their homework. The real test will come when it’s released to the public