Commentary

Why Google+ Doesn't Matter

Google+ is the future of social media! It's better than Facebook and Twitter and CatPaint combined! It can haz cheezburger!

Or maybe not.

The past two weeks have painted an overly sanguine portrait of Google+'s new social service. Look through the recent list of Social Media Insider columns from Cathy Taylor and myself, and it reads like a stream of stories you'll see friends sharing in Google+: a ton of stories about Google+ and a couple others about social media, though no cat pictures (sorry).

Google+ will hardly win over the masses overnight. The person who best anticipated the biggest threat to Google+ was none other than Julius Henry Marx, better known as Groucho. He wrote about sending a telegram to the Friar's Club of Beverly Hills that read, "Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member." Woody Allen cited this in "Annie Hall" to explain his relationships with women, and it's just as relevant to explain why early adopters can expect a tumultuous relationship with Google+.

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Right now, Google+ is fun. Major tech stars are hanging out there. Some are even ditching their blogs and publishing exclusively on Google+, apparently to reach the 1% of Internet users who know what Google+ is. A few may think it's prescient, but to me, it's lunacy. Even if a billion people flock to Google+, you don't ditch your own branded real estate to rent somewhere else -- especially if the terms of the lease can change without notice. One minute, your rental has views of the ocean; the next minute, you've got a fratboy bar on one side, a mega-high-rise on the other blocking the view, a waterfront filling up with landfill, and a chain-smoking landlord telling you to pay him every time you want a visitor.

I keep going back to Groucho, though. Think about it from the casual user's perspective. Today you get to rub elbows with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gross and Sergey Brin, and of course the indefatigable Robert Scoble. When some Ford exec posts a hangout (aka video chat, for the non-Plussies among us), you can get in easily enough. People are so gaga over Google+ that when I went to get ice cream in Manhattan's Chinatown over the weekend and ran into a friend from Microsoft, his first words to me were, "Thanks for the Google+ invite!"

Google+ is quickly getting too big for all of that. When Gmail launched, its invite-only phase lasted for more than a year, while weeks after Google+'s launch I can invite anyone I want. The initial enthusiasm of seeing Sergey Brin's travel photos has turned into the frustration of having oversharers in the stream of updates. The rush of adding your friends gives way to figuring out how to avoid those acquaintances you don't want stalking you on another network.

The people who love Google+ most are the people who act like publishers. Bill Gross, one of the most accomplished Internet pioneers of all time, was one so enamored with the comments on his Google+ posts that he announced the death of his blog. For me, I like being able to comment on luminaries' posts, but I know most comments are already ignored now that the novelty is gone. Pretty soon, you're just another name on the list, a trophy on the publisher's mantle that barely anyone will see. Sure, Bill Gross could create a "Circle" (or "list") of a dozen Internet luminaries and only address messages to them, but then hoi polloi will never get to take part. That's precisely Google+'s challenge with emulating both Facebook and Twitter at once: it will always feel too big and too small.

What about video chat, though? Isn't the "hangout" the best thing that Google has done maybe ever? The technology's great, when it works, and it will get better. It may prove to be a threat to Skype, which is now part of Microsoft and a Facebook partner. It's just as likely that people who use video chat through Google+ will want that feature and nothing else. As for the power users, you can have a focus group on Google+ with 10 people, or you can go on Ustream, broadcast to thousands (if not millions) of people at once, and have everyone take part via the comments and social network logins. There will only be so many occasions where you want to chat with 10 people (or even 20 if it scales further) but don't want a public broadcast.

Following last week's roundup of Google+ perspectives, I have two others to share with you. The first comes from an industry friend who sent me an email yesterday with the subject, "GOOGLE +++++ SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!" The body said, "What am I not getting? :)" Expect that to be a far more common sentiment as Google+ opens up to the masses.

Finally, let's return to Groucho Marx, whose dying words were, "Die, my dear? Why that's the last thing I'll do!" We're still talking about Groucho 121 years after his debut (His take: "I was born at a very early age"), so in many ways, he's still with us. Google+ isn't dead either, and dying's the last thing it'll do. Given how fast media consumption is changing, Google will be happy if we're still talking about it a year after its launch. Using it's another story, though.

13 comments about "Why Google+ Doesn't Matter ".
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  1. Robert Repas from Machine Design Magazine, July 12, 2011 at 1:43 p.m.

    "One minute, your rental has views of the ocean; the next minute, you've got a fratboy bar on one side, a mega-high-rise on the other blocking the view, a waterfront filling up with landfill, and a chain-smoking landlord telling you to pay him every time you want a visitor."

    Sounds more like Second Life than Google+ !

  2. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., July 12, 2011 at 1:50 p.m.

    Veteran words. Great article.

  3. Catherine Maino from Mosaic, Innovations in Marketing, July 12, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.

    Speaking from one who hasn't been on or using Google+ but working through the forest of social media for our marketing business, the thought of one more social site to conquer seems daunting! The one positive big buzz I've heard about Google+ was the hanging out and video chat. I'll be interested to see how it plays out.

  4. Andre Szykier from maps capital management, July 12, 2011 at 2 p.m.

    Welcome to the Borg...it will consume everything.
    Right now Facebook is munching up the remnants of Myspace and nibbling at dating sites and long tailers.

    Google is an amorphous blob of that the Chinese refer to as the "network of things". Not very focused but as it gets bigger, will slowly absorb the best and discard the rest.

    The nice thing about the Web is that there is no place to hide from Borgs as they pass through ecosystems.

    In essence, Google will become more like Ning wanted to be but did not have enough fuel to grow. They ended up like a brown dwarf star while Google will grow into a black hole in space, absorbing, absorbing.... leaving no trace of what came within its reach.

  5. David Shay from CPX Interactive, July 12, 2011 at 2:10 p.m.

    I think you're really missing the boat, David. It (like any social network) is just a tool. the question is "What do you want to accomplish with it and how flexible is it in helping you achieve that goal?' G+ may just be too flexible for some, but the truth is that if what you want to do is carve out areas of interest and create funnels for receiving and distributing info around those interests, G+ is a very powerful and flexible tool. Check out my stream at www.gplus.gp/david and see more of my thoughts on the issue.

  6. Nico Prinsloo from www.mypolokwane.com, July 12, 2011 at 2:23 p.m.

    Nice insight! I think you are right.
    Seems to me Facebook has become the comfort zone of 750 000 000 people - the market. I don't think people - or brands - are going to leave their comfort zone for G+.
    But anything is possible!

  7. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, July 12, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.

    Thanks for telling us how you really feel David. I finally got on board to Google+ just yesterday and I'm already somewhat bored.

  8. Adam Hartung from spark partners, July 12, 2011 at 3:40 p.m.

    Last week Forbes.com headlined "Google Plus is a Big Minus for Investors." http://onforb.es/iPp4sG In today's social media market event 10M users is a small number. There's little about Google + at this time that looks like it will transform the user base. And efforts to do so will be quite expensive.

  9. Eric Scoles from brand cool marketing, July 12, 2011 at 3:41 p.m.

    @robert repas: I don't know, sounds more like Facebook to me.

  10. Eric Scoles from brand cool marketing, July 12, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.

    So how come I never hear anyone talk about the fact that Google+ is integrated into all Google search results pages -- kind of like having a "like" button on every site on the interent, without having had to do anything to get it there?

    It sounds to me like you guys are mistaking one tiny piece of the puzzle for the whole thing. It's true that Facebook is a lot more than just the newsfeed. But that's a lot more true of Google+ (and more true right out of the box) than it's true of Facebook.

    Google+ is the equivalent of Google finally realizing that it was holding onto a gigantic club. The only question now is that they do with it. The road from NYC to LA could be paved many layers thick with 8.5x11 hardcopy of the premature obituaries of late-movers -- or the overdue obituaries of first-movers.

  11. Laurence Bernstein from Protean Strategies, July 12, 2011 at 7:32 p.m.

    @David I don't get it. You say, quite reasonably, "...you don't ditch your own branded real estate to rent somewhere else -- especially if the terms of the lease can change without notice." And yet, this is exactly what brand managers and other digital wizards did with Facebook -- they started Facebook pages and moved their focus from traditional web sites to Facebook Pages. Remember:"Is Facebook the end of the internet?" or was it "Is Facebook the new Internet?" Either way, the world was perfectly willing to accept that there could be a better way of communicating than through traditional sites and blogs.

    So, David, why are you so convinced this couldn't happen with Google+? I am not a betting man, really, but I think betting on Google as a company makes more sense than betting on Facebook as a company -- especially when you look at whom Zuckerberg is sleeping with tonight!

  12. Alex Luken from Humana, July 13, 2011 at 11:55 a.m.

    Not being one of the "A-list" blessed with a Google+ invitation that would be necessary to make me an early adopter, I think that by the time it is available to the people on my network, I will have read too much about its flaws to make me excited about moving my life from Facebook to Google+. I belong to the growth demographic, 50+ female, and my friends are just now trickling into Facebook. To expect everyone to pick up and move to Google+ a little much, and I don't see it happening.

  13. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, July 16, 2011 at 2:57 p.m.

    Just replace "Google +" in this article with "Twitter" or "Foursquare" or "Facebook" and it would read just the same...

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