When Google+ first launched, I was skeptical. Google's record in social has been everything from terribly invasive to wholly ineffective. And my initial interactions to the user experience within Google+ left me well, non-plussed. But the more I've engaged with Google+ over the past week, the more Google's play here started to add up.
Here are my 10 key takeaways from Google+ to date:
1. Google+ is not a social network, it's a sharing network. This is a critical distinction. Google is not competing with Facebook here. Google+ is not trying to recreate real-world relationships online. Google+ is not trying to help you get laid. Google+ exists to help you share and discover -- plain and simple. In this sense, it's much closer to a Twitter competitor.
2. Sharing is a crucial input for search engine relevance. I've explored this thread quite a bit in columns such as Like vs. Link and the Future of Web Ranking, Why Google Needs a Social Network, and Why Google Me. The bottom line is that search results ranked by domain authority and link popularity will not be able to trump relevancy for results ranked by people authority and like popularity. With Facebook in bed with Microsoft, Google had no choice but to create its own way to capture these essential votes. +1 buttons were the first step, Google+ is the logical second. Letting you pivot the SERP based on your Google+ circles -- "show me only results that my friends plussed, ok now just my family, now co-workers..." -- will be the killer third. And adding a -1 button to balance the equation seems like the logical fourth.
3. Google+ will activate richer ad targeting. Beyond search result relevancy, the connections and sharing activity among the Google+ graph will make for supreme display ad targeting across the Google network. Folks like Media 6 Degrees -- which just nabbed Google's head agency relationship honcho, Penry Price -- better watch out, because Google will be able to do some nifty "birds-of-a-feather" targeting itself. What remains to be seen is whether or not Google will incorporate display ads into the Google+ UX. Facebook has been making a killing with its Marketplace Ads and you'd think Google would like a piece of that action.
4. The new Google nav bar makes Google+ very sticky. Google not-so-subtlty put a black box around the nav bar atop Google properties like Gmail and Google.com. This makes the bar really pop -- as does the inclusion of a tab at the far left for Google+ profiles, and notification icons in red on the far right along with an easy share button.
5. Search functionality can't be far off. When Google's Twitter deal expired, real-time results disappeared from Google SERPs. I expect this to be brought back in a big way once more people are using Google+ and there's enough content for a real-time index within Google's domain. At that point, I also anticipate Google will add a prominent search box to the Google+ UI.
6. The signal-to-noise ratio on Google+ is very favorable (for now). This is what plussed on my birthday a few days ago. "The biggest difference between Facebook and Google+? Signal vs. Noise. Today is my birthday but rather than get flooded with a bunch of wall posts masquerading as b-day wishes (Bitter Table for 1?) I'm seeing interesting and relevant posts. This may change as more people join Google+ and profile info like b-day gets displayed more prominently but I do think it's a good example of the fundamental difference between a social network (FB) and a sharing network (G+)."
7. Google+ could be a great addition to Google Apps for Business. Sorry, Skype, but I'll be conducting my global team meetings via Hangout going forward. And sorry, Yammer, but I'm envisioning a Google+ white-labeled internal sharing network in my company's future.
8. Google has learned from its past social shortcomings. There was notably little fanfare around the Google+ launch. In fact, Google's not even calling this a product, but a project. Compare this to Google Wave and Google Buzz, which where over-hyped as the second -- and third -- coming of social networking.
9. The privacy police will be all over Google+... as will the spammers, and the link farmers, and the pornographers. It didn't take long for Google to hit its first little privacy snag with Google+. I've already gotten my first fake follower posting lewd photos. And I haven't personally inquired, but I'm pretty sure I could buy some pretty cheap +1s offshore.
10. It's only gonna get better! Notwithstanding the potential pitfalls I just pointed out -- that are sure to plague anything Google rolls out -- Google+ will only improve with time. Invites have only recently started opening up, and each person that joins the network, er, project will exponentially increase its overall value.
To me, one of the best things about Google+ is that it gives me a fresh start. Had I been able to categorize Facebook connections from day one into groups based on what I wanted to share with them, I'd have gotten tons more utility from the platform. As it stands, I can't even fathom going back and tagging all my Facebook peeps into groups. And, as a result, my Facebook sharing volume suffers because I self-censor knowing that my friends cross-pollinate with my family and business colleagues. With Google+, I've been careful to categorize each person as they come through so that I can be more precise with my sharing.
Even if Google doesn't create any of the potential killer apps I've proposed here -- toggling SERPs by circles, social-circle ad targeting, white-label business apps, etc. -- Google+ is still Google's best attempt to date at taming the social media beast insofar as it's not trying to become king of the jungle but merely pave a digital slime trail.