Sunday, July 17, 2011

Google+: Betamax to Facebook's VHS?

I love social media, but I am growing weary of the constant search for "the next big thing." In just the last six months or so, Quora, Hashable, Color, Instagram, Groupme, Daily Booth and Beluga have all been declared hot, new, must-have social tools. And now comes Google+, which some say is a Facebook killer and others claim is the end of Twitter. Stop the merry-go-round, I want to get off!

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!


Chris Selland said...


I am at least as tired of the Hype Machine as you are. However, in this particular instance I do have some optimism that Google+ actually is 'something.

Look at Gmail - when it came out it was invite-only and heavily-hyped, yet we already had Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc... It was kinda cool and different, but we did have pretty well-entrenched and established alternatives.

But Google was committed, and more importantly kept innovating. Today, I cannot imagine using anything but.

I believe Google 'gets it' and is equally if not more committed here. Facebook isn't going away, but every day I seem to be spending a bit less time there and a bit more on G+. Plus has Facebook done any real innovative anytime recently? They might be the incumbent, and my high school friends are there, but they seem a bit lazy.

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Google appears committed, and I think they are going to win. Just not as quickly as Scoble believes they will...

Terry said...

Excellent post. I like G+ myself as Circles address privacy concerns I have with mixing family and business. This is not something that FB could not add. The killer discussion I had over the weekend was with my daughter who was asking about G+ and I offered her an invite, she said "none of my friends are on there so no thanks". The power of a social network is the social part not the technology.

What we do not want is a PC/Mac type split and competing incompatible standards - that could hurt social media more than anything.

Augie Ray said...

Chris and Mark,

Thanks for the excellent comments!

Chris, I NEVER count Google out, of course, but I feel as if gmail was a quantum leap over other email clients at the time (and I think it was free when Yahoo was charging for premium mail with unlimited sotrage.) I'm just not convinced G+ has enough different and better going for it, but time will tell!

Terry, people like to point out that folks migrated my MySpace to Facebook, so they can do it again. Like you, I don't see this anywhere near to a tipping point, but if the kids start changing social nets, what out! And your point on standards is an excellent one. As an exec responsible for corporate social media efforts, I'm not sure I see any benefit (and only pain and expense) if Google (and Microsoft) start splitting the social media world.

Sean said...

There's another significant distinction between Google+ and Gmail. G-mail didn't require your friends and family to be on G-mail to enjoy the benefit of G-mail.

To average users, Facebook has become the place where the stay connected with friends and family. Facebook has first mover advantage in multiple planes.

They have the scale of 800 million users. They also have many users uploading and storing store family photos & videos on the platform.

Given those facts, Google+ doesn't just need to be better - it needs to be amazingly better. I'm not sure it has that. Yet.

Augie Ray said...

Great Points, Sean! It's also interesting to me that Google typically is a pass-through experience for people (at least the search engine is.) Google isn't a place people stop and stay. Even gmail is more functional than it is experiential. I just wonder if that will hurt G+. Or, maybe there's a great deal more overlap between the search and social worlds that Google has up its sleeve.

Sean said...

My view is this was a hugely defensive play. As someone who pays a great deal of attention to the convergence of search and social and notices how social signals can (and do) yield a better, more personalized search experience, I think Google was scared witless by the alliance between Facebook and Microsoft.

The +1 button and Google+ are Google's play at defusing that ticking time bomb that threatens their core revenue stream.

Geekette Bits said...

One thing that has surprised me Augie is that Google+ has not released any G+ APIs yet!! I would think that now is the time to leverage the hype, they're taking a terrible gamble to not in my opinion.

In Scoble's article about the pros over Twitter, he mentions not a mass rss feed. Well who in this automated day and age wants to write a blog post and post it to your Facebook wall and then post it to your Twitter feed and then post it to your G+ profile?

By not allowing easy integration AND by not letting others easily integrate with their sites, postings, etc I don't see how G+ can enjoy longterm sustainment.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks, Geekette Bits! That is just the kind of geeky, smart contribution I'd expect from you. Glad to have you on the USAA team!