Google+: Start your conversation (Opinion)

Aug 8 2012

Google+ is a digital lifestyle management tool, not a social network. Its use cases are fundamentally different from the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

I find myself having a specific conversation with my friends and family with increasing frequency: social media. It came up again two weekends ago when I was watching a time-shifted broadcast of some Olympic events (men’s gymnastics, women’s powerlifting, and men/women’s swimming), in part due to the amount of chatter on Twitter about various athletes and events. Everyone who was in the room with me at the time is on at least 3 different social networks, and uses their iPhone as the access medium of choice for most of their activity. Throughout the evening, we were posting pictures of my friend’s dachshund to Instagram (along with pictures of food because let’s be honest, that’s what’s on Instagram), sending them to Twitter and Facebook and then waiting for others to “like” our posts, RT them, or reply. My friend Ben asks the group if they’ve heard of Google+, to which my ears immediately perked up. The responses from the rest of the group indicated they generally weren’t active on Google+, or didn’t activate it yet with their Google account. Being of an inquisitive nature, I asked the following question: why don’t you use it?

This exchange solidified my initial thoughts on Google+, which I can summarize in one sentence: Google+ isn’t just another social network like “MySpace” or “Facebook”, it’s a digital life management tool; using it requires a different thought flow. As I mentioned, I’ve had the “social media” conversation with my friends and family previously, albeit they’ve been primarily started from questions such as, “are you on Facebook?”; “Do you tweet?”; “why can’t I post to your wall on Facebook?” (my friend Ed approves everything posted to his wall before it gets posted); and my personal favorite: “what does your twitter name mean?” As you can see, the conversations aren’t always very high-level (much like the vast majority of content one might find on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace.) Okay, that might not be the fairest of statements, but let’s consider the following: MySpace is essentially a ghost town now that Facebook allows anyone of “legal internet usage” age to join, Twitter limits posts to 140 characters (quality conversations consistent of many micro-exchanges), and “deep” Facebook conversations can be generally summarized by this image that began circulating after the US Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

Deep, Meaningful Facebook Conversations

So the important question still hasn’t been answered: why isn’t Google+ just taking off? They’ve got the registered users, the tie-in to other Google services, and integration with social sharing services; one would think they’ve got everything they need for success. The missing puzzle piece is people actually using the service.

Facebook has made it extremely easy for their users to do things; adding friends, subscribing, blocking, tagging, posting, sharing, etc etc etc the list goes on. It could be said that this has contributed to the success of the platform, but have they gone too far with their “simplification” of the online interaction experience? An example of this simplification are event notifications. Starting out with birthdays, Facebook has made it a point to notify users when their friends’ have gained a year of wisdom, but then it was expanded to weddings and engagements. These three things, relegated to the top corner of the newsfeed, have been turned into near after-thoughts that jump out at the user and say something to the effect of, “Jenny McCarthy is engaged. Congratulate her.” The transactional nature of this action takes Jenny’s engagement and treats it like it’s just another event; events in life aren’t all the same, people aren’t all the same. New babies ≠ engagements ≠ birthdays ≠ weddings; treating them all the same cheapens the overall experience. But Facebook has made it simple to communicate with Jenny, and that’s why it works.

So if users aren’t going to migrate all at once to Google+, how are people going to show up at the Google+ party without being dragged there by their friends? Better content and a superior user experience. Through its design and user flows, Facebook encourages users to respond to and share existing content, and has decreased their focus on creating new content. Facebook’s Share API is one of the best out there, but it doesn’t encourage real content creation; it’s more of a promotion and endorsement of noise.

In summary, the power of “Message” is not to be undervalued. Especially in the context of community. Google could do a lot better job of offering clarity. Messages are mixed. If I were the G+ brand czar at Google I’d outlaw the word Facebook from any and all conversations about G+. They are not the same and the word “Facebook” should be stricken from the G+ lexicon.

Google+ is a digital lifestyle management tool. Its use cases are not to be confused with social networks that exist today. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the most under-utilized platforms, mainly because most don’t understand the value of it. Like any tool, it only works if people understand it.

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