Even if L.A. was not on your itinerary last weekend, chances are you heard about the feared mother of all traffic jams anticipated because of a temporary shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of concrete connecting the City of Angels with the San Fernando Valley. Every major news outlet covered the so-called Carmageddon, which also inspired a real rant by Stephen Colbert http://bit.ly/norVGd and a comically imagined one by Adolph Hitler. http://bit.ly/oRLhtJ
Like Carmageddon, the stories about Google+ came at us fast and furious, especially in the tech arena. Some believed it was a monumental affair. Wired's Ryan Singel offered high praise: "Google+ is smooth, fast and intuitive -- a product that feels far more akin to the revolution that was Gmail." Stephan Shankland of CNET was even more effusive, noting: "Circles is the next-biggest improvement, far and away over Facebook."
Then last Thursday, CEO Larry Page reported that Google+ had gained an eye-popping 10 million members in its first two weeks. Page also noted: "We are seeing over 1 billion items shared and received in a single day." Explaining that Google+ was "still only in field trial with limited access as we scale the system," Page implied that once unthrottled, extraordinary growth was simply inevitable.
Fearing the worst, most Angelinos actually stayed put for a change, avoiding the 405 in unprecedented numbers. Not only was there no Carmageddon, traffic was so light that one intrepid driver zipped around town, reporting that it was the best conditions he'd ever seen! More amazingly, the city's construction crews finished up 18 hours ahead of schedule, making this the biggest non-event since the premiere of the infamous "Ishtar."
While the reality of Google+ is far from certain, voices of caution are already emerging. Blogger Robert Scoble told his minions that Google+ was for "geeks and early adopters" and not your mom. C-Net's editor at large Rafe Needleman shared his reservations: "I like G+ but I'm finding setting up my network kind of slow going." And David Berkowitz of 360i posted a yellow light on these pages, noting: "Google+ will hardly win over the masses overnight."
In fact, Google+ is using a clever "invitation only" marketing ploy that piques curiosity, especially among social media practitioners like myself. For these folks, trial is not an option but an expected mandate, one that also comes with a critic's eye. And from this critic's perspective, so far Google+ is underwhelming, lacking the "gang's all here" reach of Facebook and the disarming simplicity of Twitter.
For the mayor of L.A. and his constituents, the fact that Carmageddon never happened was a triumph of perverse engineering. Scaring people off the streets with weeks of apocalyptic predictions was brilliant, pretty much guaranteeing that the worst was not to come. Leave it to Los Angeles to make headlines with a media mirage titled after an obscure video game.
As for Google+, its future is hardly certain despite smart marketing and early user adoption rates. Undoubtedly, new users try it out, but only a few brave souls are prepared to forsake Facebook in its favor. This lack of commitment reflects a growing sense of social media fatigue. As one worn-out user noted, "I'm already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Who has time for all this crap?"
Lots of other questions remain, the most fundamental being: Is there a meaningful plus in Google+ that will propel the user experience well beyond Facebook's? So far, Circles (the primary organizing principle) is more of a roundabout than a great leap forward. One hopes Google has more pluses up its prolific sleeves. Otherwise, G+ may go the way of Carmageddon -- a much-ballyhooed balloon of hapless hype.