[Google plus will drive opinion and while Pluggd.in team has some, guest author Jeeten Sheth has lots to share. Read on.].
We all know that Google was trying to get a pie in the online social world since ages now. It started off with Orkut which is (was) popular in India and Brazil but didn’t really take off in the United States. Following that the Big G tried taking over twitter with Buzz and also tried with something as different as Google Wave. All those services were hyped when they started but now we all know, what’s on and what’s off.
Google + is designed by a person who was part of a flagship product team at Apple, the iconic Macintosh. This created enough hype among the geeks in the silicon valley to unofficially brag about it. More so, this got some very biased reviews about the design of Google + and links were already floating on the internet praising the design of Google +. If I or for that matter anyone has to see the design of G+ and compare it with Facebook, there are hardly any differences. Feeds named as Stream is exactly in the same place as in Facebook. Lists known as Circles are under the profile picture, similar to Facebook. Friend lists to Chat, Notifications to the options menu beside each post; are all very very similar to what Facebook already has. The only good to see thing is the Circles page and that, I think, is the only page which looks fresh and designed ground up. However, I strictly doubt the usability. Its good that it allows me to do a multi select but its painful to drag and drop into one of the 30+ circles I have already named. If you want to have a feel of the complexity and poor usability try this UI designed by some Facebook engineers for Facebook at http://www.circlehack.com/. I seriously doubt that the Apple designer is given complete freedom to do this on his own and it seems we have a clone of Facebook out of the Google factory.
Talking about the features of Google +, the advertised ones were, Circles, Sparks, Huddle and Hangouts. Circles lets you create circles among your friends, acquaintances, work friends etc. So each person on your network can belong to one or multiple circles. This allows you to share stuff and restrict that to a particular group of people or let it open for public viewing. People have now started to brag about this and are praising Google for understanding privacy and security which they believe Facebook never did. This is totally untrue. Facebook has a feature called as lists which does this since ages. You can create a list just like a circle in G+ and add people to it. For every post you can define whom you want to share with and the post gets restricted to only those people. I have been using this feature since 2 years now and have more an 30+ lists on my Facebook. Moreover, I believe Facebook is more configurable which allows to set a default share setting for each post. This assures me that even if I post via a text message, the post will only be shared to my default sharing group, which is, friends minus acquaintances minus psycho bosses at work. Google + can’t.
Google+ Sparks is a feature which allows you to follow a topic and get feeds and news related to it in your stream. This can be for any generic term like a city name as in New York, Mumbai or it can be something very specific like Cooking Vegan Food. I particularly do not find this feature very useful. I added “Mumbai” to my sparks and I have not seen an update since 3 days. Having said that, more than 50% of the stories under a certain spark are stories I am least interested in. I do not care what the Brides of Mumbai are wearing this season. Google reader does a great job for me here, I subscribe to content which I am only interested in and I can keep track of what I have read and what I want to read. Why would anyone want to read news stories, sports updates, entertainment gossips etc which are totally unrelated to the friends on a social network. I would rather be interested to read a story about Roger Federer which my friend just shared, who also is a big fan of Roger Federer like me. Facebook’s universal Like & Share buttons do this job very well. Google invaded here too and introduced +1, which is nothing but a Like button for Google, which helps you sensitize your search results or Google + streams with what your friend just +1’d. This however created a lot of Buzz in the start but was not fitting too well in Google’s product offerings and thus Google + was the next step to resurrect the dying +1 button. Sparks particularly fails to understand what makes conversations and instead of trying to create conversations from pushing junk stories, it moves users away from this feature to a more targeted environment like Google Reader or Facebook Pages and Likes.
Google +, being a part of Google family, had to have an Android application. The market app of Google + features an ability to create a small messaging group among friends. It is called Huddle. This allows a bunch of friends to message to and fro like Group Chat on Gtalk or Yahoo Messenger. As per me, this however is not so ground breaking. Facebook messages do the same very efficiently for on the go and short lived conversations. For even more targeted and long term group conversations, Facebook groups does this in an even more sophistic fashion. Improvements in the mobile app and the recent HTML5 based mobile app Facebook is working on (Project Spartan) will make Facebook much stronger in this area.
The next feature is called Hangouts. This is the one and only feature of Google + which I feel is nice to have and innovative. However, at this time the usage and adoption is quite questionable. People have been using skype video calling since ages now. Also Gtalk client for Gmail does this. Hangouts helps you do this but it allows multiple friends to join in and have a group video chat. I would term this feature as cool, but I have hardly seen people doing this for now and lets hope things for sure will change in future. Skype has this feature for a paid account and as per sources they don’t have many users doing this. I however feel that people meeting often do not prefer to video chat. People meeting often are those who live and work nearby. People not living close to each other and hardly meet are the ones who might use this feature. For this, Hangout would be an ideal place. I have a circle on Google + where I have added my college room-mates. To say, the room-mates are in the west coast of US, east coast of US, 3 cities of Mumbai and middle east. So if I am to start an Hangout, it would sensitize to respective time zones and I am pretty sure that there would not be 100% participation because of the time difference. Plus, it may so happen that one of my friends is with his girlfriend and does not really want to get onto a ad-hoc video chat Hangout just created. I may be sounding naive here but am sure most of you guys will think twice or even more before starting an unplanned group video chat as advertised by Google +. Facebook anyways have its own answer to this by teaming with Skype. Microsoft’s (invested heavily in Facebook) acquisition of Skype confirmed that this was coming sooner or later. It still does not allow group video chats as it is still one of the paid features of Skype but anyways brings two legends into a nice amalgamation for superb video calling experience.
All the above discussions make me feel that Facebook is very well positioned as compared to Google + and it would not be even remotely easy for Google to upseat or even shake Facebook off its throne.
Another story which says that Google + will kill Twitter is also very dumb. Twitter is a social network of another kind. Its a place where people share things without restrictions. 140 character limit, assumed as a caveat, is a strong feature which makes Twitter really usable. Most people just don’t understand the difference between a Blog and a Micro-Blog. This was the main reason for the initial adoption rate of Twitter but things are changing now as more and more people understand Micro-blogging. News channels to online communities to NGO’s to everyone is using Twitter to build conversations keeping them very straight and sharp. Anything more than 140 characters would make the posts uninteresting and tiresome to read and respond to. This takes me to another feature of Google + which people are bragging about, Google + allowing people to be followed instead of adding one as a friend. This is said to be very useful for celebs, bands, brands etc.This brings Facebook and Twitter at one place, right? Wrong! I am on Facebook to share with friends and see what friends are sharing. I am on Twitter to see what @JasonCalacanis has to say and what my favorite CEO is upto these days, but I don’t want an over load of their lives. These 2 are separate things and anyone trying to do something that the other is doing, they would end up being identical twins. Facebook and Twitter being the pioneering fathers, Google + looks like a Bastard here.
Wrapping it up, I believe if Google had come out with Google + back in 2008-09 they still stood a chance to dominate but they are too late for now. I think they were waiting to learn more from Facebook rather than learning the social world. As with Google ventures like Wave which is dead & Buzz which is on its path to the grave, I think the +1 button and Google + soon would die or atleast would just survive as a clone without replacing or even affecting Facebook or Twitter. I build this purview based on what I see right now & this can however change if someone like the creater of Gmail can take over Google + to make it different and innovative. I’m really sad that my once upon a time favorite internet company, Google, is being too naive. Hope to see some real innovation coming out of the labs of Google.
PS: And what’s with names like Sparks, Hangouts, Huddle, Extended networks? Doesn’t Trends, Video Calling, Message, Friends’ of Friends sound better and easily understandable? Another attempt to distinguish Google+ with others already out there?? Why not be natural?? #failblog]