Why Google+ won’t hurt Facebook, but Skype will hate it

99 Comments

Google launched its much awaited and highly anticipated social networking platform today to a limited number of users. Dubbed Google+ (Plus), the service may take its cue from social networking giant Facebook, but in the end it is about the harsh reality of Google saving and enhancing its core franchise — Google Search. It is search (and, by extension, advertising) that made Google a company that has run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission because of its huge size and influence.

At the time of Google’s founding, search was broadly defined as a sifting through a directory of websites. As the web grew, search became all about pages. Google, with its PageRank, came to dominate that evolution of search.

Today, search is not just about pages, but also about people and the relevance of information to them.

Google’s senior executives — long dismissive of the idea of importance of social to search — were contrite during their briefing earlier this week. “It is about time we have come to the realization,” said Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product with Google, “If you don’t know people, then you can’t organize the information for people.”

Google’s realization — however late – that it needs to use social, location and other signals to enhance its core search platform is welcome. “Google needs to understand these relationships and basically use those to make search better,” said Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president for Social in an hour-long briefing earlier this week.

Why? Because the the internet (and information) are expanding with such rapidity that there is no room for assumptions, and as such our systems need to adapt to this world of no (or alternatively infinite) assumptions. Google needs to adapt, and getting social and location signals is important for the company. Search is now search relevant to you in the context of your world — and that is where Google+ comes in.

What is Google Plus?

Is Google+ a destination like Facebook.com? Is it a social network? Is this an identity play? The answer to those questions is yes and no. Google’s Gundotra said that this is the first step by the company in its long social journey, which is going to evolve.

Today, you can get to Google Plus by visiting a website – Google.com/+. But it also travels with you across different Google web properties, thanks to a Google Toolbar. The toolbar is personal to you and allows you to share and send photos, videos, links or just simple messages. A notification icon informs you if others have shared stuff with you.

Google, Gundotra says, has leveraged its infrastructure to offer an array of services, and at the same time the company is attacking Facebook’s noticeable shortcoming — granular privacy that average folks can understand. More importantly it is trying hard to not be compared with Facebook.

Some of Google + Features:

In order to use Google +, you need to have a Google account, though it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a Google Mail account. Once you set-up your Google account, you can use your address book to invite people to your network and use that as a starting point.

Circles: Google has come up with the concept of circles — you can create a circle of contacts that are family, friends, work friends, former co-workers and so on. With these groups or circles you can define who gets to see what kind of updates. Facebook currently doesn’t offer the ability to control who sees what goes in our life that we share online.

Hangout: This just might be the killer feature of Google + effort. It is essentially group video chat done right. You click on the Hangout button and invite members of a certain group by sending them a notification. If there is no one around, all I could do is hang about without much drain on the system waiting for someone to show up. So theoretically I could invite all members of team GigaOM circle and have a quick video chat. In the demo at least, Hangout felt intuitive and easy to use (Google uses its own video codec and not Adobe Flash for this feature).

Huddle: This is a mobile group-chat service that is very much like Beluga, the fast-growing service that was snapped up by Facebook weeks after it was launched and is now said to be part of a major new communications push by Facebook. I think this is a great little feature and frankly, if Google was smart they should be rolling this out to all Google Apps for the Enterprise customers.

Instant Uploads: It has also come up with a new approach to mobile photos & videos. Google calls it Instant Uploads. Take a photo and it uploads to your Picasa or YouTube account and then you can share those videos via Google+  to specific “circles.”

Sparks: It is a new feature that allows you to create topics of interest and use them as source of information and then share it with various different groups. For instance, I could share results of Top Gear with my “petrol head” friends. These “interest” or “topic” packs offer a lot of content and not surprisingly YouTube videos. Circles, Hangout and Huddle are about personal sharing and personal communications. Sparks on the other hand is devoid of that connection and stands out as a sore thumb.

Google Plus + Chrome + Android

A few months ago, I wrote about how Google could beat Facebook, pointing out that it was not going to be on the web, and instead on the mobile.

I’ve always maintained Google has to play to its strengths – that is, tap into its DNA of being an engineering-driven culture that can leverage its immense infrastructure. It also needs to leverage its existing assets even more, instead of chasing rainbows. In other words, it needs to look at Android and see if it can build a layer of services that get to the very essence of social experience: communication.

However, instead of getting bogged down by the old-fashioned notion of communication – phone calls, emails, instant messages and text messages – it needs to think about interactions. In other words, Google needs to think of a world beyond Google Talk, Google Chat and Google Voice.

To me, interactions are synchronous, are highly personal, are location-aware and allow the sharing of experiences, whether it’s photographs, video streams or simply smiley faces. Interactions are supposed to mimic the feeling of actually being there. Interactions are about enmeshing the virtual with the physical.

The ability to interact on an ongoing basis anywhere, any time and sharing everything, from moments to emotions – is what social is all about. From my vantage point, this is what Google should focus on.

I am glad to see Google is thinking along these lines and is building products with a mobile-first point of view, a concept that former CEO Eric Schmidt has often talked about.

While I was given a demo by the Google executives on a notebook computer, the heavy use of HTML5 makes Google Plus an experience that could easily work on Android tablets and Android phones. Instant Uploads, Circles, Huddle and Hangout can work on these mobile devices without much textual input, making them easy to use on the touch-centric mobile platforms. Google at the same is also making  Google Plus available as an app – for Android and the iPhone platform – ensuring that it is getting the experience right.

Facebook Has Nothing To Worry About

I don’t think Facebook has anything to worry about. However, there is a whole slew of other companies that should be on notice. Just as Apple put several app developers on notice with the announcement of its new iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion, Google+ should give folks at companies such as Blekko, Skype and a gaggle of group messaging companies a pause. I personally think Skype Video can easily be brought to its knees by Google Plus’ Hangout. And even if Google+ fails, Google could easily make Hangout part of the Google office offering.

One of the reasons why I think Facebook is safe is because it cannot be beaten with this unified strategy. Theoretically speaking, the only way to beat Facebook is through a thousand cuts. Photo sharing services such as Instagram can move attention away from Facebook, much like other tiny companies who can bootstrap themselves based on Facebook social graph and then built alternative graphs to siphon away attention from Facebook. Google, could in theory go one step further – team up with alternative social graphs such as Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr and use those graphs to create an uber graph.

Build it, But Will They Come?

mostly because of company’s DNA.

Google needs this social effort to work — it needs to get a lot of people using the service to create an identity platform that can rival Facebook Connect. It needs the people to improve its search offering. Of course, the Google’s biggest challenge is to convince people to sign-up for yet another social platform, especially since more and more people are hooked into Facebook (750 million) and Twitter. I don’t feel quite compelled to switch from Facebook or Twitter to Google, just as I don’t feel too compelled to switch to Bing from Google for Search.

I can easily see services such as Hangout and Huddle get traction, but will that be enough to get traction with hundreds of millions of people? Doubtful, though I am happy to be proven wrong, for it would surely be nice to have a counterbalance to Facebook.

99 Comments

Yogin

I think Google+ would be giving good fight to Facebook for the reason as google has many users already for which they dont have to hunt for the market also they have business google account which can be a booster for site to beat facebook in no time!

ankur

I have a strong feeling this google plus thing is gonna take a lot of traffic from fb, not just because it has come up with some good features like Hangout or Huddle but also because Most of the people spend much of their time on google searching for their queries rather than facebook.
So if these features come on google page , Why not anybody would like to give a try what the whole thing is all about? !
I think because of large no of traffic, the google has people might try some other options as well which google is coming up with. And also I think people are a little bored of facebook, and theya are in search of something new to pass the time , something new , cool enough to talk about among their friends! So once this google plus thing comes I think people are surely gonna atleast check out the new features in it.

Scott K Wilder

Good overview and I agree with you that Facebook doesn’t have much to worry about … yet. I like the Circles concept, but Google still is somewhat mechanical in it’s approach. They could do a lot of interesting things by linking people based on topics of interest, etc. I can create my own circle but it is not intuitive that I can create subsets of individuals I want to hang out with, such as ‘fellow dads,’ ‘ebook clubs,’ etc. While Google has taken one step forward, they need to bring the human aspect (not just the social aspect) back into their thinking. Why do people want to form a group, for example…..

Ben Joven

Om don’t you think after Twitter and Facebook the average person does not have the bandwidth for another social network?

Social networks, in my opinion aren’t similar to hardware where we’re always racing to jump on board with next new gadget. Most people I know are so addicted to Facebook and deeply intertwined in it’s network that their’s no chance of them switching regardless of privacy.

Ben Joven

Om don’t you think after Twitter and Facebook the average person does not have the bandwidth for another social network?

Social networks, in my opinion aren’t similar to hardware where we’re always racing to jump on board with next new gadget. Most people I know are so addicted to Facebook and deeply intertwined in it’s network that their’s no chance of them switching regardless of privacy.

Tal

I do think that Facebook has something to worry about here. I agree that its a great opportunity to bridge mobile and desktop. The fact that they embed WAVE into the product is absolutely HUGE in my opinion too.
Honestly – the reason I am not active on facebook is exactly the lack of features google+ adresses. Its possible there (in fb) but too hard to maintain and manage.
Now I sound like a fan boy. Sorry. Just that I don’t get excited easily and WAVE plus this whole thing is what I was looking for. Especially on my Android. Video, chat, voice.

Thus my next point. Why keep GTALK? its an embedded feature now in Plus!

mjw149

I’m pretty sure Facebook should be worried. It looks like Android could be creating a ‘facebook phone’ without facebook! If they can find carriers to get on board with live video chat via your circles, plus instant photo and video sharing, well that’s what we all want, right?

The question in my mind, is what does it do for ‘groups’, i.e. companies and blogs and other organizations. Do they form sparks? Did Google think of them at all?

Taylor

Also, after playing around with it Google Plus for a bit today, I can tell you already a large part of it is going to be sharing anything you find interesting online. Facebook has it’s “like” button all over the internet, but it doesn’t do much with the information that you “like” something online. It looks like Google Plus is working to better that system. Instead of “liking” things tho, Google let’s you “+1” things, such as this article (and for those of you falling behind on not having your +1 button set up yet, chrome has an extension to +1 and web site). So, now that I +1’d this, my friends that google thinks might be interested in it will get told about it.

Tim McGee

Great commentary! Looking forward to seeing Google+ implemented by the public. Totally agree with your last comment on seeing a counterbalance… they have to much influence for my liking.

itsatony

I slightly disagree about the traction problem here. I really think the key product – and the main driver of traffic – will be circles. The lack of audience-choice keeps me from posting on facebook and i know many people who either only passively consume and sometimes comment on facebook or limit their posts to one type of audience; however almost everybody on this planet has at least two true circles and thus we’re either spammed or left out by the facebook system.

Mittal Patel

Hangout and Circles seem promising. Gotta check it out but don’t have beta invitation :(
Is there any way I can use beta of Google+?

Shree

Sorry OM – just not convinced – I can almost see you trying to do a switcheroo and support Google but your earlier opinion is holding you back…or maybe this is an attempt to change your opinion.
Google is on a long road downhill and that road started in 2006…enjoy one more bump on the road downhill…

Om Malik

Not sure how I can dismiss it entirely after a 45-minute demo and not sure how I can embrace it after a 45-minute demo. I have not used it for an extended length of time to make a good case either way.

Brian

You’re delusional. Long road downhill? Chrome is expanding, Android has exploded, and they’re bathing in advertising cash. Watch the demo, Google+ looks great.

Cal

Really..
From their patent case disclosure courtesy Oracle, Google makes less than $4.00 for every Android device in REVENUE while Microsoft makes $5 for every HTC Android device and soon will make $7.50 – $12.50 for every Motorola or Samsung device running Android soon.

Admit it please.. Google has great search assets but they botched both of their mobile and social businesses. They will make no money here whatever be their mindshare and marketshare.

And Google is a public company that needs to make money if you have any doubts about it!

I really think that Oracle, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook will make the Fat Lady sing for Google by 2015 or 2020.

Cal

Mark

“Circles: Google has come up with the concept of circles — you can create a circle of contacts that are family, friends, work friends, former co-workers and so on. With these groups or circles you can define who gets to see what kind of updates. Facebook currently doesn’t offer the ability to control who sees what goes in our life that we share online.”

Yes they do, although it’s a part of Facebook’s off-putting privacy settings. I have most of my friends organized by groups; if I want to talk about something personal, I make it visible just to the group of friends I have deemed important. If I want to talk about work, I hide my post from my co-workers, using the group of coworkers I created.

Om Malik

Mark

Facebook Groups is not as granular as Circles and privacy is not as intuitive and easy as it is on Circles. I think once you use Circles you will see that. Clearly this is going to be a hard one for Google to explain. I felt the same way as well but in actual usage things were a lot different.

Mel

Not Groups, but Facebook does have the facility. You can classify your friends and family and then choose who each update goes to. Just hover over the little lock icon before you set your status – or you can set a default i.e. Updates go to everyone except friends set as ‘work’ by default.

Sam

“Yes they do, although it’s a part of Facebook’s off-putting privacy settings. I have most of my friends organized by groups; if I want to talk about something personal, I make it visible just to the group of friends I have deemed important. If I want to talk about work, I hide my post from my co-workers, using the group of coworkers I created.”

And I sincerely hope (for your sake) that your method works out. I tried this same process – painstakingly sorting every Facebook Friend into an appropriate group and category. I went through this process on three separate occasions. On three separate occasions, Facebook washed all of those settings away and I had to start over again.

The worst part was that they did not even notify me that the walls in my garden had fallen. This is exactly why I deleted my Facebook account 3 years ago, and exactly what I have been waiting for.

Had Diaspora been a little faster, I would have tried them. As it is, I’m excited about Google+. Granular control over what I share, and with whom, is precisely what has been missing from social media

Adam V

The link in this sentence – “Today, you can get to Google Plus by visiting a website – Google.com/+” is pointing to an incorrect URL.

Otto

Like the plus one button, it totally doesn’t work with Google Apps accounts.

The way Google leaves their most active users out in the cold constantly astounds me.

Paul Gailey

yes, and maybe if one of the high profile bloggers posed the question publically we would get a semblance of an answer from Google instead of a vague announcement in March that it was coming soon.

Om Malik

Agreed. I asked that question and their answer was that they are being very slow and methodical and dont want to jump the gun. I couldn’t even use my gigaom email :-)

Paul Gailey

I can see when it is eventually Profiles for Apps is enabled it will create havoc of duplication because same people will have established profiles with (mostly) Gmail accounts and then start doing the same with Apps accounts. When the whole premises of Circles was to delineate between work/private/friends it seems the launch sequence of this is vexed. I’ll speculate further and say without Profile portability functions of some sort all of this is just going to get more socially messy.

Murukesh

I don’t think google+ is an attractive offering, especially for youngsters. They should have started with a smaller feature set and build on top of it.

ronald

Is mobile an addon to so social, or will mobile be an integral part of the future of social? Since social is as you point out all about organization, which should be a large part of mobile.

Om Malik

Ronald I am not sure I quiet understand your question — however to me, the Google+ has a bigger potential as a mobile-social experience.

ronald

Sorry was at the airport.
My immediate thought on the circle concept was, people move in and out of circles(can be in more than one) based on space time. Like in the good old days a todo list was just that, now it’s a list of lists in space time. I don’t think social will be a static as it used to be.

Lucian Armasu

All this sounds very intriguing, and it looks like it’s going to be an exciting service from the few photos on that link alone. Looking forward to it.

Matt Albert

It still seems to me while this is google’s real first competent social offering, that the next wave of social is not going to come from an existing massive company like google. I think the simple fact that people cannot connect to facebook will make this a hard sell for a lot of folks. As pointed out in this article, the next big thing will be a company that leverages Facebook’s social graph and pivots the attention to it’s own platform. Plus, isn’t this going to stoke the battle between facebook and google? What happens if that turns ugly?

Great article!

GinaG

Great to see Google finally enter the Social Space!

BTW, Om, why don’t you have Google +1 button on your site or articles? :)

Sunil Bagai

I couldn’t access the URL for Google Plus either. It looks like an interesting service, however I wonder how it will build the community and the tools required to make it a force to be reckoned with.

Andrew Robulack

It demonstrates a weakness in the marketing, don’t you think? Is it Google+, or GooglePlus? Or is it Google +, or Google Plus? Confusion from go can’t be a good thing

Gabriel

Well, it’s fixed now. google.com/plus will also work now.

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