Google+ has been available for several months now, and I've spent some time playing around with the service. I've read more than a few articles about why you should and should not adopt Google+. After fiddling with my own circles, sparks, and huddles for a while, I've come down on the side of those that think Google+ is here to stay, and that it brings some new and innovative features to the table. Yet while Google+ competes with existing social media platforms on some level, I'd argue that Google's ambitions for Google+ go far beyond simply competing with Facebook.
Read on for the six reasons I believe Google+ will eventually join the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as a leading social media platform.
1. It's Not Facebook
Some bloggers and pundits have already dismissed Google+ as a poor clone of Facebook, and point to recent Google failures like Buzz and Wave. Google has lots of company in the tech failure hall of fame: Apple's MobileMe, Apple TV, and Newton eMate 300 are surely present, as are Microsoft Bob, Windows Vista, and Microsoft Zune. (Beads of flop sweat are beginning to form on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 efforts, but it's still too early to dismiss this very promising--albeit beleaguered--mobile OS from a seat at the tech fail table yet.)
While Google+ does have some features that are comparable to Facebook, it isn’t fair (or accurate) to dismiss it as a feature-for-feature clone. Granted, Google+ can't match Facebook's impressive 750 million user base, and I doubt it will ever usurp Facebook as the social media platform of choice for posting photos of Hummel figurine collections, reports of embarrassing office parties, or serving as the online soapbox of choice we all use to tell our own airbrushed versions of reality. (Those of you that have never used Facebook to post pictures of your kids, brag about a recent vacation, or subtly tried to let everyone know how great of a person you are can be excused. Still here? I thought so.)
2. Social is the New Search
Part of that broader ambition for Google+ is improving Google search, which has suffered an increasing amount of criticism over the last 12 months concerning deteriorating search result quality – like here, here, and here. Google says that it is continually updating their search algorithm to provide better search results, and part of that improvement has included the addition of social media factors. More people are using social media that ever before to select and distribute online content to their friends, and Google+ (and the new Google +1 feature) are two of Google's attempts to bake more social media factors into search and determine the “social value” of individual websites. Given the increasing role of social media in search -- and the long-term impact that shift could have on Google's core (and very profitable) search advertising business, Google had to respond. Although arguably a bit late to the social search game, Google+ is proof that Google to aggressively embracing the trend.
3. Google+ Everywhere
While Google may have been late to embrace social media, their Google+ strategy intends to leverage all of their existing strengths in a way that their previous efforts haven't. Just as Microsoft has historically used their dominant market share on the desktop to promote related products -- such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player -- I believe Google fully intends to embed Google+ support across their entire product family, from Google search to Gmail, YouTube, and beyond. In this sense using Google+ isn’t analogous to adopting yet another social media platform, as Google is simply adding Google+ functionality to services that we’re already using. Capitalizing on your strengths is always a valid business strategy, one that Apple and Microsoft have been especially effective at employing themselves. Just ask Digital Research, Novell, WordPerfect, Jack Tramiel’s Atari, Commodore, and all the other ghosts and diminished competitors of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates about how well those industry titans have effectively leveraged the strengths of their respective corporations to their competitive advantage.
4. Consumerization is Driving the IT Agenda
The adoption and use of computing devices and services intended initially for consumer use in the enterprise is increasing, and Google is one of the companies leading the charge. Microsoft has been forced to react to this change, with the recent unveiling of Office 365 and the long-overdue move to Windows Phone 7 being responses to the success of consumer-focused cloud services and mobile devices, respectively. Google is embracing and driving this trend perhaps more than any other vendor, with Gmail and Google Apps for Business and Education in the cloud space, and Google Android in the smartphone market. Amazon may challenge Google in the cloud arena, and Apple is a strong competitor in the mobile space. Microsoft doesn't have a strong position -- as of this writing -- in either the cloud or mobile arenas, although the advent of Office 365 and ongoing updates to the Windows Phone platform could change that.
Google has emerged as a driving force in the consumerization of IT, and Google+ has the potential to have more of an impact in the enterprise than Facebook. Consider this: Millions of business users are already using Google Apps under the radar of corporate IT to share and collaborate on documents and spreadsheets in the cloud. Why wouldn't they consider using Google+ to collaborate and exchange information even more closely, especially when Google+ is available for free with a standard Google account? The advent and adoption of Google+ in the enterprise may make things difficult for pure-play social enterprise vendors like Yammer very quickly.
5. Business Value Trumps Novelty
Every business on the planet has a vested interest in doing well in internet search rankings, and Google has made it very clear that Google+ and the Google +1 feature will have an impact on search. Performing poorly in Google search can result in millions in lost revenue for some companies, so the pressure on businesses to embrace this trend will be overwhelming. Companies are already bolstering their social efforts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other emerging social media platforms to help boost their search results, and that trend will undoubtedly continue.
6. Unique Features
Google has clearly done its homework with the features offered in Google+, with at least two of them -- circles and huddle -- being singled out most often for praise by early adopters. Circles is a much easier and more effectively implemented method of managing your online relationships with different groups of people, and huddle is a group video and text messaging feature. Other features like sparks, hangouts, and instant upload are useful and well-implemented as well. Some early Google+ users have leveraged these features in novel ways, such as a using huddle to create a group video cooking school.
So have you taken the plunge into Google+ yet? Let us know what you think of Google’s latest product offering by adding a comment to this blog post or starting up a discussion on Twitter.
- Follow Jeff James on Twitter at @jeffjames3 – Google+ add Jeff to your circles
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