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?

[polldaddy poll=5189056]In the past, I have been pretty skeptical of Google’s social ambitions, mostly because of company’s DNA. Based on a briefing and a demo, I am not yet ready to change my opinion.

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

Ishka

Om said something that was overlooked.

Don’t sit on the sidelines with googleplus
jump in as an early adopter, use it and
position your self to help others with it down the road- especially offline, local
businesses.

That’s what I’ll be doing and here’s the how to part
http://snipurl.com/howtousegoogleplus

Onur Demirsoy

Hello guys. This is my Google+ link: gplus.to/onur Feel free to add me.
Btw I still have invitations. I can send to you if you want. All you have to do is follow and mention @onurdemirsoy on Twitter. Have a great day.

rybread12

how will Skype die…. Facebook practically owns it now!!!

arnold waldstein

Don’t know whether it will ‘die’ but it is threatened.

Been using the Hangout group video function for a distributed client development team in Europe and it works really well.

Still using Skype for one-2-one and for recorded interviews but for group work, Hangouts is now my top choice.

donna

I hate the fact that I can not get onto my facebook account because this stupid google 404 error pops up with this stupid broken down robot what is up with that crap I WANT MY FACEBOOK NOT GOOGLE

Daniel

Dear Sir!

I appreciate your article, it sums up the most important parts about Google+ in a well developed and easily understandable way. Good work!

However, you write, that:”Facebook currently doesn’t offer the ability to control who sees what goes in our life that we share online.”

That simply isn’t true. In Facebook you can define “Lists” and add certain people to them – much like “Circles” in Google. For example I have a List for friends, work-friends, etc. If I post something on my wall, there is a small lock-icon showing in the right bottom corner. If this icon is clicked a small menu appears, where I can choose who can see this special post. By clicking on “customize” I can add Lists or even single persons, who can see this post, or simply add “Everyone” and exclude the persons I do not want to see my post.

Apart from that, the article was great!

All the best,
Daniel

arnold waldstein

I just completed my first multi-location international video conference with a client team in Europe on Google+ Hangouts.

Very impressive…exciting actually.

Elizabeth Bowers

I can not wait to sign up for it, when can I sign up

Anonymous

I like Google+ but they need to be careful. The easiest thing is kill Facebook the way Microsoft killed Netscape. If you want to surf the web, you have to use Internet Explorer. If you have Gmail, you have to have to use Google Plus. At a minimum, the velvet rope rollout, the buzz, will have the same effect, attracting the highly educated, high income, and early adopter crowd that originally preferred Facebook over Myspace.

Mark Seibold

Remember Myspace? Remember Facebook? Now there’s “Google Plus”. Whats next? Chevy, Ford, Toyota, or Mercedes? I finally bought a Mercedes and all the other cars don’t matter any longer to me. I hope that Google Plus becomes the Mercedes of the social networks. Seriously.
– Mark

eri

There’s one that exists MUCH greater than Google+ and Facebook. Who? OnlyMeWorld. Don’t let the name throw you off; it has the potential to be bigger than the above-mentioned. Why? With all the problems that exist from such sites affecting the users PRIVACY, it is only right to have a social network that won’t sell your information, recognize your FACE, make money off your site, and ask for every other piece of information you have to your name. I’m sorry but I don’t feel the need to verify my Facebook account with my PHONE NUMBER, do you? And the new Google+ share circle–NO. Even if you post something intended for just YOU and a FRIEND, you click that little circle and off it goes shared to the worldwide web. Even if it’s set to private! Though you probably know the same goes for facebook.

OnlyMeWorld.com –I love this site. I DID NOT need to use any of my real information to create the account, not even a real email. And an extra bonus is the ability to place Google Adsense Ads on your personal site and actually YOU–yes YOU, the user, gets paid for it! GENIOUS!! That and the geek within me loves the Games, Blogs, Video Chat etc…all in one place…

You connect through specific networks for your profession if that’s something you look for. I would watch out for this site in the next coming months.

Arnold Waldstein

Great post. I shared it around this morning to my networks.

Two comments:

-I’m in Google+ and have an account but too early to tell. Feels obviously empty now.

But I wonder whether we need another broad-based, friends oriented social net. Seems like we have one in Facebook. I see some directions here for more interest and context based connections but basically this looks pretty horizontal to me.

I would expect Google to not just copy but build some contextual based niche networks and start to break new ground with more implicit not just another explicit designed net.

My thoughts on the need for context over just more friendship chatter and content @ http://t.co/ahgcmKR.

-What you say about video chat is fascinating. I agree that Skype and a host of start up video chat companies should take heed. The big issue is whether indeed video chat is ready to take off. Whether human behavior is ready to make that leap. Been following this drive for real-time video chat for awhile. My thoughts on how human behavior may not be ready for this @ http://t.co/C56SFn7.

Thanks for this post.

Brij

I think, Now, It’s turn to Facebook (Got some idea from Google+). FB can enhance its functionality and services.

Raven

informative article – that site only shows up in Thai on my machine – yes I am in Thailand, but I don’t read Thai

When will thay tidy up this “localization” crap ?

Patrick

Add ?hl=en to the end of any google page — this will force any Google site to english.

I agree this should be better documented, and they should have a way to update your bookmarks without needing an account.

Jeremy

A question we need to ask ourselves is “Do we really *need* more social networking?”

It’s out of control. This page, like virtually every other last page on the internet now, has twitter and facebook buttons already. Why do you need another one?

Lucian Armasu

Ha. Only 11% of the voters said Facebook is good enough for them. The fact that it’s more hated than Bank of America might have something to do with it:

http://www.itworld.com/software/178661/facebook-really-hated-more-bank-america

And people still think Google+ won’t kill Facebook with such a low satisfaction rate? The only reason Facebook is still alive and even growing (just outside North America now) is because there really wasn’t a serious alternative to it, and which you could get behind and join.

But Google+ finally offers that to everyone.Just like with regular disruptions, this will happen gradually, yet inevitably. Just don’t expect ALL your friends to be on it the day it goes public.It only needs a relatively small critical mass of *active* early adopters to succeed. Once it has that, it will be a walk in the park to transition to the mainstream population, and just a matter of time.

Keep watching Facebook’s bubble valuation. It will pop soon enough.

G.Eastman

Google circles are long overdue feature.
Off to create a circle: “friends who spam and can be spammed back at will” …

dbv

Microsoft has been chasing Google for years in search and is currently losing > $1bn per year. Similarly, Google will endlessly chase Facebook and continue to lose money and market respect.

The market decided at least 2 years ago on Facebook as their preferred social network.

Google behaves as if Facebook doesn’t exist. Also, who in a right frame of mind would launch a social network consisting of Google+ with Circles, Huddle, Hangout, Sparks etc. Features turned into sub-products/services. This is like the 90’s PC software industry re-visited.

Kindroid

I will. If this works the way it appears, there is finally social network I can manage. And it looks like would be useful to maintain contact with the people I care about the most, or that I need to organize by relationship. That it might just work like a champ on my Droid X is icing on the cake.

Lucian Armasu

Microsoft’s search engines were NEVER better than Google, and Bing still isn’t. Do you think maybe that has something to do with Microsoft’s failure?

Google+ on the other hand seems much better than Facebook. The only “issue” is that people think their friends wouldn’t join Google+ because they are on Facebook already. But I think they will be surprised how many are willing to do it ASAP. It’s not an issue as big as they think it is.

Sure, you have 500 “friends” on Facebook. But are they really your friends? What you need are really just about a dozen of them to come with you to Google+. All of the sudden, that looks like a much easier task.

Gonzalo

They do have quite a nice shot here! Look at the results of your survey: 77% of us “early adopters” will at least try this. IF it works, the rest will come.
I propose a competition (hope some blogger takes it to the mainstream): who’s the first person who’s able to recreate their full social network in Google+?
Actually, Google themselves should promote this and give a million dollars to the first. That might be enough to jumpstart plus.

pelumini

Nice, balanced writeup, unlike the trash on same topic @ techcrunch.

Marcelo

There are opinions about Google+ all over the blogosphere, as it happens when there is a major announcement. But I tend to ignore all others and come here to hear what Om have to say. As always, great thoughts.

Wayne Schulz

Far too many overlapping and confusing products. What happens to Disco? Google Talk video chat? Buzz?

This is typical Google marketing. Throw a bunch of stuff against the wall. See what sticks. Only that type of marketing doesn’t seem to work well for them in Social.

They also have too much confusion with products that are dying (Buzz) still being maintained on life support.

My gut says this will give the tech elite a thrill but not do a thing for my Mom or millions of other more typical users.

Lucian Armasu

Why wouldn’t your mom want to use it? It’s not like it’s a “techie product”. It actually looks like it offers a much better user experience and it’s more “fun” than Facebook. Don’t forget Facebook is built by geeks, too, and I think they’ve done a pretty mediocre job on Facebook’s design. Sure it was better than Myspace at the time, but which site wasn’t?

Bertie Allsop

Another huge corporation taking more of your details with your full consent :) Scary stuff. I left Facebook in favour of folkdirect.com at the end of last year – privacy and security are their major plus points… along with all the usual social networking tools. Oh yes, and they’re owned by a small company, not a massive advertising machine. Open your eyes!!

Bob

Google is building up a huge store of identities via android, just remember before you activate an android phone, you need to use or create a google account

Darren Clark

Btw, I share with my friends what I care about, not my search terms. I also do it in person, or via text if its that important.

Sorry Google, I only share the interesting parts of my life, which is more likely to be the random stranger on my way to work than what I surfed while eating a sandwich.

Saleem Khan

Whether it will be able to compete with Facebook or not, Google+ is welcoming for Google Users. Mostly google users were using twitter,facebook, skype etc. for social networking. Now we will get all at one platform, and the more Google will integrate its services like GMAIL, Contacts, Calendar, Docs, Maps, G-Voice, Android, Chrome Browser, PICASA, Google Books, and many more applications…the more users will like to use.

As a user, I don’t appreciate to share my personal information here and there. It will be much easier for me to keep one login for all things.

Google’s open source strategy will surely welcome many developers to bring innovation in Google+ services too. So actual story is started now….given that Google address and keep innovating for users.

Good luck Google…!

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