It’s too early to tell whether or not Google+, the company’s challenger to Facebook, will find success. Google’s Documents and Apps have seen widespread use, yet other services have struggled, like Wave. Early feedback suggests that from a user perspective, Google+ is getting some things right, but is not yet a solid package or a true rival to Facebook or Twitter.
Its real USP is ‘Circles’, which is a way of quickly and easily managing those you follow and then targeting those groups with content. This is a fantastic addition to friend/follower management and is something Facebook users have needed for years. It’s also potentially one of its biggest problems: if Facebook reacts quickly and introduces better peer management and targeting, then Circles ceases to be a differentiator.
Beyond Circles, it’s also promoting group video chat (‘Hangouts’) and topic browsing (‘Sparks’). Personally, I like Sparks. It works for me in the same way Bing does, i.e “let me browse but yes, give me that initial spark”. Hangouts is a great feature for those who like video chats. But I’m not sure it’s enough to take audience from, say, Skype. Google has fantastic voice recognition facilities for its mobile services. It would have been great, for example, to support Hangouts with automatic voice transcription for the hard of hearing or for business meetings.
…and the minus?
It’s therefore going to be an uphill climb. Google hasn’t done itself any favours with its staggered approach to release. It worked for Gmail because people were looking for a great, free e-mail service and its central features did not rely on who or how many people you knew. Google+, however, requires you to have friends who are also using Google+. I have 300 friends on Facebook who are constantly chatting with me and giving me content to explore. Why should I go to Google+ to interact with 20 people?
If they want to succeed, then from a user perspective they really need to offer more of what the other networks don’t have (and a killer could have been decent cloud storage and streaming) and they need to make it easy for users to aggregate. Something as simple as grabbing contact e-mails from your Facebook friends en masse would have instantly made this more interesting. Why not allow me to connect using Twitter and Facebook to pull in feeds from both? Google could have made Google+ something I want as my homepage, my one-stop shop to the internet. They could have reinvented the internet portal – something Microsoft has been trying for years with MSN but failing because of poor application.
The value for brands?
As for brands, I don’t think there’s anything in this for them in the short term. Longer term I think brand engagement will be in the form of specialised search and content advertising (eg through ‘Sparks’ or interspersed through the stream). There’s a lot of white space that would be perfect for advertising. On top of that, Engadget found references to game sharing in the background code, suggesting that there’s much more to come that users and brands can do.
Perhaps that’s the central benefit Google will try to sell? ‘Come to Google+. We have ads, but it’s not nearly as invasive or pervasive as on Facebook!’