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:
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.
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.
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?