Sunday, July 17, 2011
Google+: Betamax to Facebook's VHS?
So much of the hype about new social tools is fueled by "influencers" who are able to influence others to try new things but not to adopt them. And some of these influencers bounce out of new tools as quickly as they enter; for example, Robert Scoble declared Quora the biggest blogging innovation in ten years, then changed his mind a month later. I give credit to anyone willing to declare, "I was totally wrong," but the constant rush to praise every new device, widget, app or site is getting exhausting.
Scoble is now hot on Google+, sharing his opinion of "how boring Twitter has gotten when compared to Google+." In his latest blog post he challenges readers to compare his Twitter account and Google Plus account and determine which is more engaging. To me the answer is easy: Twitter. Robert's Twitter page displays six discrete thoughts/tweets along with his bio above the fold, while his Google+ page has just two discrete thoughts along with one of his friend's comments. I am much more inclined to tweet a reply because I can quickly see, consume and understand more of Robert's content within Twitter than Google+. In fact, Google+'s interface is very similar to FriendFeed, and that site didn't hold my attention either (or anyone else's, for that matter.)
My point isn't to pick a bone with Robert. I've learned a great deal through the years by following him and appreciate people like Robert who can quickly test and share knowledge about new devices and sites. Still, there is more to a successful social tool or site than just a good idea, a set of appealing features and an attractive interface.
Google+ isn't a bold, innovative evolution in social media--it's Facebook with a dash of Twitter and an extra feature or two (and a couple missing). Google+'s most appealing feature is Circles, which offers something that people have been asking of Facebook--the ability to direct posts to certain people in your network while omitting others. It is one important benefit Google has over Facebook. (It's puzzling Facebook failed to deliver this feature before Google beat them to the punch, and now that competition is heating up, watch for Facebook to expand upon the control it permits users based on friend lists.)
With Circles, Google+ may be a bit more appealing than Facebook, but don't forget Betamax was a great deal more appealing than VHS. Beta offered better video resolution and lower noise--and it was crushed in the video format wars by VHS. In 1980, Beta owned 100% of the market, but a year later it was down to just 25% of the market. Its better quality couldn't overcome other problems relating to the length of tapes, the ability to view and edit home videos on video cameras, JVC's willingness to license VHS technology to other consumer electronics companies, and even Sony's refusal to permit pornography on Beta systems.
It will take more than just a somewhat better set of features to knock either Facebook or Twitter off their thrones. As I noted in an earlier blog post, we can expect Google+ to amass huge numbers of users, because those using the Google search engine or Gmail will be encouraged to register. But will people register and then neglect Google+, will they replace Facebook or Twitter with Google+, or will they do something in between?
There is room for multiple social networks, of course, and Google+ is likely to enjoy more success than Google's earlier attempts such as Orkut, Buzz and Wave. Still, with Facebookers spending 700 billion minutes per month on the social network and 2.5 million websites having integrated with Facebook (including 10,000 new websites every day), it's going to take more than Circles (or Hangouts and Sparks) for Google+ to yank a great deal of time, attention and engagement away from Facebook.
Like Robert, I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong, and perhaps I'll need to do so in six months or a year, but I predict many folks will give Google+ a test drive and most will remain with Facebook or Twitter as primary sources of social networking. Influencers will like that Google+ has the openness of Twitter with the threading capability of Facebook, so Google+ may become a key tool in the toolbox for social media and tech professionals. But for many others, Google+ won't be a replacement but yet another place to maintain a profile and check for social communications, and that may be one social network more than most people are willing to integrate into their lives.
What do you think? Have you tried Google+ yet? If not, are you interested in doing so? Whether or not you've had a chance to test Google+, I'd love your opinions on a poll I posted: What is your experience with Google+ thus far? Please click through and complete the one-question poll!