What Exactly is Google Plus Adding?

Google+. What is it? Or more specifically, what exactly is the “+” adding?

Despite the claims by Google that Plus is not a replacement for Facebook, anyone who’s ever used both services knows that’s exactly what it’s trying to be. I see Google+ as having the following purposes, in this order:

  1. Provide Google with more information about who we are as people, not just what we’re looking for on the web. They want to organize the world’s information, and now see human interactions and interests as part of that information needing to be organized.
  2. Replace Facebook as the #1 destination on the Web for the plethora of users out there who primarily get on the Internet to see what friends, family, and friends and family’s pets and babies are up to. Google is still the #1 visited site on the web, but Facebook is on a mission to overtake that spot.
  3. The backbone of Google’s “Unification” of services, where they’re finally stepping out of their old “we’ll do a thousand things, and put about 50-90% of our efforts into those things” and moving into “we’re only going to do five or ten things, and try and do them 100%”
Those are goals for Google. They’re drastically different goals than the Google that set out to help people find web pages about a dozen years ago. Google’s #1 priority used to be the user. That’s why Google’s search and Gmail were so wildly popular. That’s why Android has been able to make such a dent in iPhone’s sales, even when iPhone as a user experience is vastly superior in most regards. Now, Google is throwing that model away. It’s like they’ve taken all of their experience from their various forays into sharing, tossed them, learned very little (outside of “User Privacy!”), and copied Facebook with a few improvements. The problem is, everyone is already using Facebook, and it’s not broken. When Facebook dethroned MySpace in what seemed like a matter of minutes, it had a superior product. MySpace was cluttered, ugly, full of SPAM and any old stranger could bother you about how your music taste sucked, or try and tell you how how of a lady you were, even if you were Rupert Murdoch himself. Nothing is particularly broken with Facebook, people love it, or at least they love to hate it. Facebook has become the new “TV”. Everyone uses it, and truly hip people get a kick out of saying “I barely even go on there anymore”, where barely in modern terms is less than seven times a day.

So What Has Google Added, Exactly, with Plus?

Well, they’ve added a bunch of +1 buttons all around my online life. I can +1 a search result, which gives me the unusually powerful ability to change search results for myself and people in my Circles. It’s a very powerful feature, because if I +1 a site, chances are it’ll be the top result for particular queries for me from now on, and likely will affect my friends’ queries as well. To be honest, I don’t particularly like that. I use +1 to bump pages which are more valuable to me to the top, so I can immediately recognize them when needed. For example, in the Web Design business, I often need to find HTML entities. If you’re not familiar, they’re short codes that represent certain characters not easily entered into your keyboard, and which HTML needs to have specifically entered as codes to ensure proper rendering.  , → and » are good examples. They make a space (you can only do one spacebar space at a time with HTML, so you need to add in the HTML entity if you want multiple spaces in a row), an arrow pointing right, and a “right double angle quote” symbol (also known as “sharrows” in the bicycling world). I know which site has them displayed the way I want them displayed, and which site makes it easy to find them on the page. So I +1’d it, right. Now I don’t have to worry about another page overtaking that page as the #1 result for whatever reason.

The theory is, that if my buddy Dom Giblioni +1’s a steakhouse in Pittsburgh’s Southside, the next time I look up [southside steakhouse] I’ll get to see his +1 recommendation. That’s cool, if Dom knows what he’s talking about. If he doesn’t, suddenly the real #1 result—the one that’s been voted on using a pretty great algorithm invented by a bunch of really smart guys who basically have created a voting system by where the entire web votes on which sites are best, or in this case, which steakhouse in the Southside is the best—then isn’t the best option, but just the best opinion out of all of my friends who’ve bothered to +1 something.

Of course, +1 isn’t the only thing Google has added, it’s just the most influential. They’ve also added a few cool features like Hangout, which if I had a bunch of friends who’d rather sit around on computers and chat than meet up at the bar, would be cool. But I don’t, because that’s kind of stupid. Circles is a truly cool addition, and gets rid of the blight on Facebook where “My mom joined, so now I don’t use Facebook anymore” because as we all know, the majority of what FB is about is posting pictures of last night’s debauchery.

Finally, they’ve added a big black bar to the top of my browser where anytime I’m in Gmail, Google Calendar, search, etc., I’m able to pretty easily post something to my Google+ stream. I rarely do that, but I’m sure it’s a useful feature for…reposting things from Google websites to another Google website? Think about it, that black bar with the easy-to-share feature doesn’t show up when you’re reading through Wikipedia, it doesn’t show up when I’m checking reviews on Amazon, it doesn’t show up when I’m “exploring” my neighborhood via Yelp. It only shows up in places where essentially I’d be sharing the following.

“Hey, you’re on a Google website right now, check out this other Google website that I was able to easily share with you!”

The exception to this is Google Reader. Reader is the only place Google has been able to shine in the social realm. I had friends on Google Reader, and I could share with them whatever latest stories I found interesting. I knew I could go there to not only read the RSS Feeds I was personally interested in, but to see what my friends were sharing as well, opening me up to new stories and websites of interest to me. I could figure out which of my friends were consistently sharing good material, and continue to follow them, or quit reading ol’ Dom’s posts from hamsterfarts.com. Even as I struggled to figure out how Twitter was going to be a good time, even as I actually did quit Facebook, and all the while I never gave a damn about MySpace or Friendster or any other pre-FB social network, I stuck around Google Reader because it offered me a service, and made that service fun to share with friends.

Unfortunately, Google+ took over Reader, instead of integrating with it. It’s like the people in charge of both said “Okay, scrap what Google Reader is, we’re going to remove features from Reader because they’re similar to those on Plus.” What they should have done was say, “Okay, we’ve got two products here that do similar things, how can we integrate them.” Google+ is the newest addition to Google’s long list of forays, but it’s suddenly getting so much attention that it’s overtaking time tested older sites. How difficult would it have been to make all of my Reader friends into an automatic Circle, which then by sharing on Reader could be seen in both Reader and Plus, depending on what the user wants.

Google’s going to be around for a long time. They’ve built a base that isn’t going to be easily overturned by some startups. But it’s time for some startups to try and do just that, because I don’t believe they’re innovating anymore. They’ve jumped the shark from “Look, we’ve got Windows 3.1, isn’t this awesome!” to “Look, five versions later we’ve still got Windows 3.1, but now we call it 7 and it’s way shinier!”

Up Next: Frosty/Beaver Moon, November 10th, 2011