Google Plus

Google has been trying to get into the social network business several times before. It’s first attempt, Orkut was actually a partial success, though I imagine it was not what they expected it to be. The service is wildly popular in Brazil and India, and almost completely unheard of everywhere else in the world. How did that happen? How did Orkut entice those demographics while simultaneously staying below the radar in other countries? I have no clue. Since I live in US, I have never had even an inkling to sign up for it, so I could not tell you.

Their second attempt, Google Buzz, was a bit of a PR nightmare. On paper it was a brilliant move – the kind of crazy idea that gives the MBA and Marketing types raging “Business Boners™”. It was a trick play – a clever ruse, a dastardly ploy to outmaneuver Facebook and gain thousands of users over night. How? By bootstrapping social components on top of Google’s existing, and very popular services (like Gmail, Google Calendar, etc..) and make it an opt-out rather than opt-in service. This way they could have a critical mass of users on launch date. The only thing they overlooked in this scheme was user reception. It probably was a bit of a shock to them to realize soon after launch one of the most popular search queries used in their own search engine was something among the lines of “how to turn Buzz the fuck off”.

Buzz got virtually no positive coverage in the media. The reception was almost completely negative, and even the people who decided to mess around with it agreed that Google dropped the ball with regards to privacy issues and user trust. Most importantly, virtually no one was excited about it. After all, how excited can you get about a social network you are forced into by default.

Did they learn their lessons from these failures? It seems that they did. In fact, I think they were fiercely taking notes when Facebook was getting flak about lax attitude towards user privacy. Google Plus, latest attempt at social networking seems to be built around these lessons. It is essentially a Facebook clone, minus all the stupid shit that most people hate about it. Oh, and it has a data liberation feature:

Doing it right

Of course this is nothing revolutionary. Google has been building data liberation into their services for a while now, and Facebook added this feature in October of last year. Still, it’s nice to see this sort of thing becoming standard in social networking sites. Up until very recently the concept of data liberation was a bit of anathema for most big online services.

Google Plus feels very much like Facebook felt back when it was new an Myspace reigned supreme. It’s design seems cleaner, better designed and much simpler than that of it’s competitor. It gets rid of frills, gimmicks and silly fluff in exchange for functionality and ease of use. I like it. I think Google did a really good job this time around. Of course it will be interesting to see where do they go from here. Pretty much all these services start fresh and clean, but eventually get overrun with shit. Then again Google has a big revenue stream so they might be less tempted to give into the temptation to plaster Zynga and affiliate crapware all over their UI than, say Facebook.

The Circles concept seems superior to Facebook lists, because it really hammers down the idea of segregating the people you know into separate categories with different level of access. Facebook’s analogue is not very prominent, and thus often goes unused. Google flat out forces you to drag your coworkers into a different circle than your closest friends. I don’t think you can make the notion of not putting all your social network connections in the same basked clearer than by putting several distinct baskets on the UI.

Hey, I'm going to create a new circle called Dickfaced Douche Hamsters just for you!

I also really like the drag and drop image uploader. Have you tried it? It is very neat. The end user experience is much superior to that of Facebook.

One thing still missing from Google Plus is a large user base. The network effect still has not kicked in. I really feel like I’m back on Facebook when it was still exclusive to college students, and only two or three people I knew IRL actually heard about it. On the other hand, maybe the smaller user base is yet another draw of this service. You can hang out and share with your geeky friends, without your parents and/or random acquaintances butting in.

Obligatory XKCD

On one hand, you'll never be able to convince your parents to switch. On the other hand, you'll never be able to convince your parents to switch!

Are you on Google Plus? How do you like it? How does it compare to Facebook? Do you think it will go anywhere or will it fizzle out? Are you concerned about giving Google more of your data than it already has?

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16 Responses to Google Plus

  1. mcai8sh4 UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    I never really got the facebook bug. I signed up years ago (probably because I was bored at the time). I still fire it up to see what friends are doing, and most chat programs now incorporate FB chat so I probably use the chat feature 10x more than the actual site.

    I’ve read quite a bit about Google+ and I am certainly intrigued by it. Sadly I’ve not been able to get an invite yet as they seem to be testing it properly by slowly ramping it’s userbase over time.

    I hope it gives facebook a challenge (not because I hate FB – I just think competition should improve both services). I don’t have a problem with the amount of info Google has of me – I’ve never felt the need to throw my whole life on the internet.

    Will G+ actually turn me into a social media fanatic… probably not, but it may make me more incline to ‘contribute’.

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  2. I like Google+ – but more in a twitter kind of way.

    I have some people (friends and stuff) in circles for sharing, but mostly I got people in circles for listening. One for developers, one for funny people, and a huge one for people Google suggested.

    The latter one I’m looking into from time to time. When I notice anything special, I remove that person and dump them into A) a circle they fit in, B) nowhere, because they weren’t interesting or C) BLOCKED!

    Oh, and do try and delete a circle. Create one just for deleting. You’ll do it again.

    PS. Will you use G+ for public stuff or just for closed stuff – like another Facebook?

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  3. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I agree Google have made some really fantastic UX decisions. Google+ just works really well.

    I’m also using it more like Twitter, but until more of my Facebook friends are on Google+ it’s hard to make a long term judgement about it.

    Looking at that new black strip of Google global navigation makes me realise just how dependent I am on our “benevolent” overlords.

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  4. Gothmog UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m really happy about Google+ as well- I like the Android client and think the ‘hangouts’ are going to give Skype a run for their money.

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  5. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Luke I need you on my circles :D Can’t find you by your name though :)

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  6. Gothmog UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Liudvikas wrote:

    Luke I need you on my circles Can’t find you by your name though

    I found him- ‘Luke Maciak’ will bring him up. :)

    So I used the hangouts heavily this weekend to run our League of Legends games. I really like the fact they are persistent. That way people can drop in and out of them based upon what team they’re on. Adding multi-user webcam support is pretty sweet as well- the facial expressions of your teammates are both hilarious and more effective at getting a point across (i.e.: “Dammit, man! You’re a TANK, so TANK already”)

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  7. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m on it, and there are 3 things I like about it. So far the biggest draw to me is that unlike facebook, it hasn’t been overrun with “look at me” or “I had a bad day” type posts yet. Circles, as you mentioned – being able to control who sees your post – by circle, individually, or public is genius.

    Second, you don’t have to “friend” someone back. If they want to include you in their circle they can, and you don’t have to add them to yours, or you add them to a “I hardly know you” circle. No feeling guilty over not friending your grandma.

    Third, the hangout (chatroom with voice and/or video), chat (1 on 1 chat), and huddle (a bunch of people can see a text & everyone can see each other’s messages) features are handy, especially if you have an android phone.

    I’d really like it if you could filter incoming messages as well – like gmail filters – but it is early.

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  8. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Also, and I may be alone in this, I like buzz. Since you can link it to articles you shared in google reader, it is really convenient for me to share an article with friends/family, and add a quick comment. They bungled the privacy bits, but I think it serves a useful purpose.

    For example, I see these posts in buzz!

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  9. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Gothmog:
    Oh really, didn’t recognize him with his suit, looking all fancy, unlike his avatar on the blog with his face closeup :D

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  10. Eric GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m at the moment missing a simple textchat/message system in Google+ maybe I have not found it yet, maybe it does not exist the way I expect it to be…

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  11. Gothmog UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Eric:
    G+ uses googletalk as its chat service, Eric. It shows up on the left hand side on my google+ page. It’s limited to circles as well- another slick feature! That way I can only chat with those I truly care to.

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  12. Simon AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux says:

    I think it would really help people migrate to G+ if they created a facebook circle and used the fb api to get and put facebook posts. Then people who wanted to make the shift could move without losing their fb network.

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  13. icebrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Google has been building data liberation into their services for a while now, and Facebook added this feature in October of last year.

    Well, not exactly. The fact that FB doesn’t let you export your contacts’ email addresses and actively blocks extensions that let you do that shows that they aren’t really committed to the users’ rights about their data. It was a kludge to shut critics up.

    With Google Contacts (I don’t have a G+ account), I can export everything and even sync to any system using the API.

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  14. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Eric:
    Also you can share your post with a specific person that way they get notification about that post.

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  15. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Getting an invite took a while and actually getting the system to work took even more. But once in, it is pretty nice. Visually it is a lot better than Facebook, but of course, the crowd aspect is still very limited.

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  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ mcai8sh4:

    Hey, I was about to send you an invite, but then I realized I already have you in my circles. :)

    @ Tormod Haugen:

    That’s actually an interesting idea. Facebook is primarily a welled garden and my instinct is to always lock it down and keep it private and use it mostly for sharing stuff with friends and family. Twitter is always public. Google+ could be something in between. :)

    @ copperfish:

    I know. It is quite scary to think how much information they will be able to mine out of this network.

    @ Gothmog:

    I have to check out Hangouts. That’s one thing I have not touched yet because video chat is not something I use often. :P

    @ Liudvikas:

    I’m here. I hope Google will let us mere mortals make custom URL’s soon.

    @ Gothmog:

    You know, Hangouts could be a really good for pen and paper role playing too.

    @ jambarama:

    Yes, avoiding the “Why don’t you add me on Facebook? Are we not friends?” awkwardness was a stroke of genius.

    @ Liudvikas:

    Heh! My Gravatar is probably like 4-5 years old if not older. I just never bothered changing it. The Google+ pic was taken last summer at my cousin’s wedding.

    @ Eric:

    It uses Google chat. It’s on left sidebar. Disabled by default but you can sign in at any time. You can also limit your visibility to specific circles only.

    @ Simon:

    I think I have seen a third party app that does exactly that posted on Reddit the other day. I wouldn’t necessarily trust it but it’s out there.

    I’m not sure if Google is in position to do it themselves. It would be a very aggressive competitive move I’m sure Facebook would want to block it.

    @ icebrain:

    Huh, I did not know that. I never used Facebook data download thing. I simply noticed it was there. Google+ actually offers you several options, formats and lets you export your social graph very easily.

    @ Alphast:

    It’s actually picking up. I see more and more people jumping in, checking it out and adding me.

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