The speculation of the month seems to be how long will Google+ last? Does the social network have what it takes to stick around for the long haul? Or is Google’s latest offering too little too late?
It’s become virtually impossible to avoid articles wondering whether Google+ could easily end up like Buzz or Wave, or finding a diatribe as to why the hurtling growth numbers don’t mean anything, or how the site doesn’t really compare to Facebook or Twitter. But Google+ is very much here to stay.
“The most awesome stage”
Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
There’s no denying that there have been hiccups along the way, but any service is bound to have growing pains, and these are certainly not issues that have Google+ on its way out. The issue of having to use your real name on Google+ may be a deal breaker for some, and for all the good intentions and reasoning behind the decision, it does mean that the service loses out in some ways. For one, hilarious parody accounts like the ones we’ve seen on Twitter (e.g. ShitMyDadSays) wouldn’t survive on Google+. (Although some of them have slipped through the cracks, like Stewie Griffin’s.)
Before you knock Google+ and decide that it’s a lost cause, it’s worth at least giving credit where credit is due. In private beta, the social network was able to capture the interest (if even just briefly) of 10 million people in the space of 16 days, a feat which took Twitter 780 days, and Facebook an even longer 852 days. And stunningly, the number of items being shared per day on Google+ has reached 1 billion.
The figures have since spiked to 25 million members in just over a month. So according to the figures, there’s definitely curiosity, but is there enough to make users stay?
Users are interacting
So far, the interaction on Google+ has been phenomenal. Post exactly the same thing on Google+ and on Twitter – and there’s simply no comparison in the responsiveness. Some posts on Google+ garnered 3 or 4 times the reaction or response it got on Twitter. Could it be the novelty of using something new? It well could be. But I think it has more to do with the setup. Responses to any given post can be seen by everyone, and so it ends up becoming a community discussion rather than just individual reactions.
While on Twitter, conversations can be had with more than one person, it becomes unwieldy, especially when 3 or 4 people are involved, and your tweet is taken up by their names, leaving less space for your thoughts. Twitter is a great tool for announcing information and for one-on-one discussions but it has never been an ideal platform for group discussions. Google+, on the other hand, was made for group discussions.
Communities have already formed
Because of this ability to have real discussions, there are very distinct communities that have formed on Google+ and there’s a lot of buzz (pun not intended) within these groups. The photography community is a perfect example of that kind of community. Lists, upon lists, of talented photographers who are actively involved in Google+ are being created, and the same is being done for journalists. There has been much talk about how journalists can, and are already using Google+, as a valuable tool in their careers.
Like-minded people are quickly finding each other, interacting, and sharing information, as well as tidbits of their own lives. The primary focus, however, seems to be on sharing information, rather than sharing personal information. Which brings me to my next point.
Facebook isn’t Google+’s real competition
I understand why the comparison to Facebook is made, but there’s no point in making it. Google+ is Twitter on steroids. It’s a public platform to share information with whomever you want to. Facebook is a private platform to interact with friends and family. I don’t see Facebook as a social network where I would want to add just anyone to my friend’s list. I don’t want to share my personal life with someone I don’t know, and I don’t want them sharing theirs with me.
The friend/follow model is completely absent from Facebook, whereas on Google+ it’s very much there, just as it is on Twitter. That alone is enough to show how different the two sites are. If I’m a Facebook user, there’s no reason I can’t use Google+ alongside it, just as many people already use Facebook and Twitter. If any two social networks have been pitted against each other, it’s Google+ and Twitter.
Because of this very point, the one issue which will continue to haunt Google+ is the insistence on using real names. While the use of circles make it easy to keep your content private, sharing it only with specific people, this is only useful among mutual friends. Not everyone you circle will necessarily circle you back. Because of this, I find myself using Circles more as a information-consumption tool rather than a sharing-tool.
Google+ has some heavy hitters supporting it
Within the communities that have already formed, there are well known names that are at the centre of a lot of discussions which are taking off, and they even go so far as to create hangouts to talk and spend time with their fans, peers, and other Google+ users.
Photographers Trey Ratcliff and Thomas Hawk have been among the most engaging users on the social network. Journalist Sarah Hill is using Google+ hangouts to give viewers a first-hand taste of what it’s like inside the news studio. Well known tech personalities like Darren Rowse, Guy Kawasaki and Jason Calacanis are prolific ‘sharers’ on Google+. Not to mention celebs like Alyssa Milano and Ashton Kutcher taking to the site, and while they are admittedly more active on Twitter, their fans are certainly just as responsive. The list of celebrities on Google+ goes on and on.
But when did the first celebrity, journalist or conglomerate join Twitter? One of the very first journalist to take to Twitter was probably The Guardian’s Meg Pickard, joining in late 2006, the year Twitter launched. By June 2008, a presidential election debate was taking place on Twitter. Soon after, The New York Times, along with a long list of its journalists joined in August 2008, and the Huffington Post quickly followed suit. It was probably around November 2008 that Twitter snagged one of its first big-time celebrities, when Shaquille O’Neill joined Twitter, more than two years after the service launched. Google+’s celebrity uptake, on the other hand, has been an almost overnight affair.
It could be argued that Facebook and Twitter simply paved the way for Google+, and were the search giant to have attempted launching the first social network of its kind, it would have been met with a very different reaction. But that is probably inconsequential when we’re considering whether or not Google+ is here to stay.
The comparisons to Wave and Buzz are irrelevant
The comparison to Wave is as irrelevant as they come. Google Wave was doomed to fail from the get-go because none of us really knew what we were supposed to be doing on there. Wave was a directionless service, and the same cannot be said for Google+.
It is very clear how Google+ is meant to be used, and at the same time, the service is flexible enough to let users adapt it to suit their personal needs. In that respect, it is quite similar to Twitter. And we all know how successful Twitter has been.
Google+ has the right amount of similarities to Twitter, with the perfect dose of differences. Buzz, on the other hand, was far too similar to Twitter, and so there was no real pull to abandon an already well established network and community, for exactly the same features. No one ever really made the move over to Buzz, beyond plugging their Twitter accounts into cross-post. And that’s where Buzz died a very swift death.
Google+ is actually useful
There are so many different ways you can use Google+ to your benefit, in ways which Twitter will never be able to compete in its current state. Visual artists can share an image with their friends and followers instantaneously.
Yes this is, ironically, a 140-character world where attention spans are shorter, and the likelihood of clicking a link, or going to the second page of a site isn’t a sure thing. So when you share an image and it’s instantly there for people to see, Google+ has an obvious one up on Twitter.
Bloggers also have a great tool at their disposal to drive traffic to their latest posts. How is this any different from Twitter? Well for starters, you can actually include a short excerpt from the post and direct your followers to the link to read more. If you get them hooked with that first paragraph, they’re more likely to click on that link once they know what’s waiting for them, more so than sharing just the title.
There’s no limit to how creative you can get with your approach to Google+ because the platform gives you a ton to work with. And it also brings a new tool to the table with its Hangouts, which can be used for group discussions, brainstorming sessions, podcasts, tutorials and so much more.
There are people who will steadfastly refuse to abandon Twitter or Facebook in favour of Google+, and the social network has not garnered the interest of every single person who has signed up for an account, as is proven by the many accounts with no posts to their name. And we’ve established that Google+ isn’t without its quirks and issues. But to write off the social network within a couple of months of its launch seems shortsighted.
In 2006, Twitter launched, as Twttr, and just like Google+, it had its detractors. Twitter’s tipping point didn’t come until a year after its launch at the 2007 South by Southwest conference, when Twitter usage literally tripled in number. So give Google+ just a little bit more time before declaring it a lost cause.