In Defense of Google+

I’ve seen one too many “the death of Google+” articles this week. The common theme is a belief that Google+ has failed because it is not quickly growing into a Facebook clone. In many ways it’s silly to compare a 7-year-old social network with 800 million users to a 4-month-old project, especially because Facebook and Google have very different goals in social.

Let’s stretch our brains and think a little laterally about how Google+ may grow into a unique but powerful social service. (We’ll ignore the extra $30 billion per year that Google has to spend over Facebook for now.)

Bringing Social to Great Applications

Google calls Google+ a social layer on its existing services. In the commentary, people tend to gloss over this and focus on how Google fares as a stand-alone social network. This is a mistake. I, for example, use Google+ every day now. But if you look at my feed, you’d think I barely used at all. How is this possible?

Google+ is the social glue that ties together an impressive suite of Google applications. We are just in the very early moments of that integration, but you can see the direction that they’re heading. Let’s take a quick peek.

  • Google Photos. Google is rebranding it’s excellent photo application, Picasa, into Google Photos. The ability to easily import photos, clean them up, use facial recognition to tag the participants, and then seamless upload it and share securely with Circles is amazing. For those of us that aren’t comfortable storing sharing our entire photo collections with “friends” on Facebook, this is a breath of fresh air. Why don’t more people use Picasa today? Very few people know how much is possible. That will change when Google puts it’s marketing muscle around photo sharing. Added bonus: you can get 80 gigs of Google Storage for only $25 a year and backup every photo you’ll ever take.
  • Gmail & Groups. Email was the first big social service, and no one does it better than Gmail. Google+ will ultimately provide an easy way to collaborate with groups of people (more on this below). Imagine easily conversing with your Circles inside of your email application. You could instantly create temporary discussion groups around topics like planning a holiday party. Do your typical emailing plus share photos, web pages and documents. Add in a quick video conference on Google Hangouts to nail down the details and you’ve done sophisticated and effortless planning without leaving your inbox. You could possibly do this on Facebook, but will you people really abandon their inboxes for Facebook as the nucleus of their communications?
  • Google Search and Search Ads. If I can see what sites, products and services my trusted network recommends, then I can make better buying decisions. This isn’t a big reason to use Google+ today, but in five years it will be much easier for me to sort through the clutter and find the good stuff with the help of my social circles.
This doesn’t even touch on the benefits of integrating YouTube (better video recommendations), Google Places (where do your friends hang out), Google Books (what are my friends reading), Google Music (what are my friends listening to), etc. But these are “nice to have” things in my mind. Google+’s key strength will be in improving productivity around it’s core offering. Once it succeeds there, it can worm its way into the rest of our lives.

The Next Big Features

For this stuff to take off, Google+ will need two key types of  features.

  • Circle Creation Tools. Setting up circles is easier on Google+ than Facebook, but still not effortless. Imagine if you could subscribe to someone else’s circle. For example, a teacher at school can create a group of all of the parents in the class. The trade association can provide a circle for you to use.  These shared circles would allow one or more people to organize a group that the rest could use for easy communications. Suddenly, you don’t need to trudge through your contact list to figure out who you’re leaving off. It’s just magically available. For our own circles, Google can mine our communications and use algorithms to help us sort our friends into logical groupings. Suddenly, sharing securely has gotten a lot easier.
  • Service Integration. Much of the magic doesn’t require new inventions. It’s just a matter of bringing together our inbox, our groups, our photo sharing library, and our voice/video communication tools into one interface. This is an area where Google, with its extensive experience with Google Apps, excels. Facebook, with it’s focus on social and simplicity, may find it harder to help us organize around project planning and more work-style tasks.

Five Year Prediction

We will look back at these “death of Google+” articles and marvel at how blind so many pundits were to its obvious potential.