I have absolutely missed the mark with my predictions on Google lately. My biggest misplaced crystal ball gazing came in my remarks on the bright future for Google Health, which Google is now in the process of sun setting.
I’ve also been a little off on Google’s past attempts at going social. To be fair, though, Google’s been a little off on their past attempts to go social.
Google’s bread and butter has been inventing or reinventing categories of online services. Sure there were search engines, advertising platforms, email programs and maps before Google got into those games, but they’ve taken these categories into new places and fundamentally shifted the paradigms. Then you look at Google Docs and Google Voice and these are, for all intents, entirely new services born from the minds of Google Engineers. Contrast this with Microsoft, which has generally taken market proven ideas and gone the “bigger and better” route.
I think this is what Google has tried to do with its past social media efforts. Services like Buzz were a new and different take on the social space that left most of us scratching our heads in confusion.
With the turnover of leadership at the search giant, there’s a new focus and some new tactics at work. Clearly, the social space (including the growing relationship between Facebook and Microsoft) are seen as a significant threat at the Googleplex.
As Google launches Google+, they seem less focused on fundamentally redefining what social networking means and, instead, looking at the shortcomings of the industry space as a whole:
- People have different Social Graphs (to use Facebook’s phraseology). Various groups of friends, families, professional networks and hobby or interest-related groups.
- We share differently with these groups. My friends don’t really care about the latest opinion piece about Accountable Care Organizations while my professional colleagues really don’t need photos of my kids at the beach.
- The result is that most socially-active consumers have staked out spaces in a number of social networks. For me, that’s Facebook for friends, family and brands of personal interest, LinkedIN for professional groups, and Twitter for content aggregation and content curation.
- This complicates the process, requiring consumers to maintain networks on several services each of which has different capabilities and nuances.
As they built out Google+, they followed the general principles behind other social networks that users will find very familiar, but they also did a few things differently:
- Circles – Google+ is built around the idea of circles, representing consumers’ different social groups. This allows consumers to keep all of their networks in one place so that they can keep up with all of these groups without the need to check three or four networks.
- Sparks – This is a formal way to receive relevant, socially curated content.
- Instant Upload – The majority of photos today are taken on mobile phones and Facebook is the largest photo sharing site today. Google+ becomes an automatic backup for your digital photos, uploaded automatically when they’re taken and can then later be shared.
These, on their own, would be interesting, but don’t represent the killer apps that will get consumers to move over from their current social homes. The big shifts were in the area of real-time communications:
- Hangouts – Free group videoconferencing. Sure Facebook is pulling in Microsoft’s Skype, but Skype charges for the feature that’s available on Google+ for free.
- Huddles – Text chatting, like AOL Instant Messenger and Facebook chat, but with group chat capability.
Both of these significantly beef up the real-time communications options from what’s available elsewhere. And we’re already seeing organizations throwing virtual conferences using Hangouts .
At present, the major question about Google+ seems to be the limited functionality. It is in early Beta stages at this point, and there are apparently lots of new capabilities in the works.
More importantly, Google+ fits into the tremendous range of services available from Google. Think of how a robust network fits into Google Docs, Google Voice, and Gmail! If Google’s able to make a run of this, it could be the game changer that they’ve been looking for.