Decoded: The fuss about Google Plus

By Team YS|4th Jul 2011
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“Ringa ringa roses,Albums full of poses,

Comment or ‘like’,

We all want crown.”

If one were to make a sorry attempt at rehashing an old nursery rhyme to capture the phenomenon that social networking has emerged to be, then this is how it would read.

Today, we’re more connected than ever before with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Blackberry Messenger, email, Google Talk and many others, vying for our limited attention. Under such circumstances, is Google Plus just a ‘plus one’ to this list or is it, as many proclaim it be, the “Facebook-killer”?

Enough has been said (and written) about Google Plus’ feature set. So, this isn’t a Google Plus review. You’ve probably heard of the Circles feature which allows users to categorize their contacts into friends, acquaintances, family, etc. and even decide who gets to see what they share.  There are a number of Facebook-y features with different nomenclature. So, ‘like’ becomes ‘+1’ and ‘Wall’ becomes ‘Stream’.

New features includes Sparks, which allows users to choose topics of interest and receive relevant user-rated content, and Hangout, which allows up to 10 users to group chat with video & audio capabilities. Hangout challenges Skype, which has tied up with Facebook to launch the social network's video chat facility.

You’ve probably got a Plus invite already. If you haven’t, check out this post on how to get around that process.

So what is it that has gotten people so excited about Google Plus? Well, from the users’ point of view, it’s essentially the only real alternative to Facebook to emerge in a long, long time. And from the point of view of people in the business of technology, it’s Google’s most interesting move on the ‘social’ front, after forgettable expeditions in the form of Wave and Buzz and the free-for-all Orkut.

Facebook

If one were to look at rise in valuations, Facebook, as a company and brand, has set new standards. Words like ‘meteoric rise’ do no justice to the climb in worth that Facebook has seen in the recent past. And Google has been viewed as a laggard in this space. But all that changes with Google Plus.Google’s widely regarded as the database of intentions. It knows what you are searching for and it knows what you planning or communicating (if you use Gmail). Now, when you’re backed by that sort of data, a user-friendly social networking product that’s tightly integrated with existing products and services is clearly the last link in the chain. And that’s exactly what Google Plus is and that’s also why it evokes so much interest.

Plus employs Google’s design philosophy (clean, minimalist, utilitarian) and tries to solve the problems that users are facing with Facebook. So, if you’re one of those who squirm when your older cousins or uncles comment on your Facebook posts, you’re definitely going to want a peep into the world of Plus.

Also, when it comes to drivers of success for a ‘social’ product, access is one of the most crucial factors. People will only be active on a social network when it’s easy for them to share stuff and that always means being able to share from whatever device that they own (a computer, a tablet or a phone).

Plus scores highly on the access front with its place in the Google services bar that accompanies all of Google’s products. The width of Google’s product mix and their cross-leveraging approach is likely to help Plus in a big way. The Google Plus app for Android is neat and takes the experience forward, rather than being a no-frills version of the web product.

So, are there no pitfalls? Is Google Plus really perfect? No, it isn’t. Facebook is leagues ahead when it comes to photo sharing. Plus comes bundled with Picasa, which people either love or hate. Either way, not too many people use Picasa and besides, Facebook’s got everyone’s pictures already and no one’s going to upload them all over again on Plus.

Also, there’s a strategic aspect to the photo sharing piece of the ‘social’ play. Research has shown that user engagement is highest with personal photo content. Facebook is a clear leader on this front and if Google Plus wants to give Facebook a run for its money, it’ll have to figure out way to get around this problem.

Google has claimed that it has stopped sending out Plus invites due to the insane demand for them. People have even started selling invites on eBay. While we do understand that it’s a phased launch and more people will be let in eventually, a social network’s no fun if people you know aren’t on it.

Having said that, experts do concede that Google Plus is being built with an eye on current trends and some bets on the future. It does have hooks for high-engagement models like social gaming and Google’s relationship with the developer community is likely to make the Plus ecosystem much, much richer.

Ultimately, Google Plus is for people who like making choices. For instance, Facebook decides what to display on your newsfeed based on what you like and what your friends like. Plus lets you decide whose updates you want to see. And given that people who are comfortable with technology are likely to want more options and choices when it comes to customization, Google Plus may take some time to move out of the ‘for geeks only’ image and appeal to mainstream users.

It is clear that Google Plus is definitely a major bend in the ‘social’ roadway. It signals Google’s re-entry into the terribly hot ‘social’ space and it’s been widely accepted as an imminently usable attempt. One can safely say that interesting times lay ahead for both developers and end users.

Sriram Mohan | YourStory | 4th July 2011 | Bangalore

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