Unwrapping Google+

Elliot Kort

Category: Strategy

06.30.2011

Last night, Twitter, Facebook and telegraph lines delivered exciting news to the social media world: invites for the recently-announced Google+ were available. Tech junkies predictably went into a frenzy, requesting access from anyone, anywhere, please. Those lucky enough to get through the park gates first sprinted, with bated breath, from feature to feature, all in an effort to figure it out before anyone else: what Google+ is, what is isn’t, what it can [and can’t] do, and above all else, debate whether it will succeed.

After receiving an invite [unprompted from my friend Tom of We Love DC – thanks again!], I set out to see what utilities Google+ offers those of us in the digital world. Below are my first-glance impressions, with an important caveat: no one has been on Google+ long enough to say anything definitive, especially as the site is still in beta testing. However, with the 20 hours I’ve had to wander, here’s what I see:

Hangouts Could Be Big: People have been looking for a free, reliable means of video chatting for quite some time, and Hangouts seem like a simple way of quickly putting together a large video conference. There’s no need to for any additional software [beyond the latest version of Flash], which allows technophobes to take part in the fun without downloading any “risky” programs. It will also be interesting to see if/how Google eventually incorporates Docs into Hangouts, making it possible to jointly edit documents while videoconferencing.

Google Still Hasn’t Learned a Few Key Lessons: Shortly after signing up, a friend pointed out that Plus automatically opts you in to receive email notifications about each and every new site development. I quickly did away with those, but I remain surprised that after the kerfuffle concerning Buzz’s automatic-opt-in policy, Google didn’t allow users a choice to opt-in, or out, from the get-go.

Unlike Facebook, Google Knows Users Want to Easily Create Their Own Groups: The key word here is “easily.” One of my gripes with Facebook over the years is that it didn’t [and still doesn’t] truly allow for people to sort contacts into personalized groups without a major hassle. Facebook’s use of lists is geared toward privacy and people not seeing something; on the Google+ side, creating a Circle [group of people] allows users to direct specific content to specific people, without the hassle of manually choosing from lengthy lists of contact names.

The Post-Facebook Social Network: This morning Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein tweeted, “… the killer app of Google+ is the ability to start your social network over with the benefit of years of Facebook experience.” Klein has a hell of a point: many social networking sites have launched since Facebook was crowned king of the Social Media Mountain, but few have been as poised to threaten Mark Zuckerberg and Co. in such a profound way. That’s not to say that Google+ will topple Facebook. It merely poses the question: What kind of site could? A site with millions of users chomping at the bit could. A site with capability to dedicate untold resources towards challenging such an entrenched opponent could. And with millions of users leaving Facebook in May, it’s no longer feasible to view the site as an indestructible juggernaut. People may flock to Google+ and use it like a digital mulligan, starting fresh and atoning for the mistakes they’ve made on Facebook.

Google+ may not take down Facebook, but it’s certainly better equipped topple the beast than anything we’ve seen before. As has been said elsewhere – and here, though it bears repeating – it is still far too early to tell whether Google+ will be a new platform with staying power, a new Google Wave, or something in between.

If you’re already on Google Plus, what do you think? If you aren’t, do you want sign up? And why?

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