Remember when Google Buzz made its debut and how the media and Buzz users were in a frenzy? The usage was high, and the product was thus hailed as a Facebook killer. While I was fairly impressed by the overall strategy underlying the product
, I didn’t think it would spell the death of Facebook or Twitter. What I, like many others, didn’t see was that the fall of Buzz would be even more rapid than its rise.
This raises questions over the prospects of Google+. Does it have better chances of thriving or will it too not survive?
Having been bullish about Buzz and then witnessing its demise from the sidelines, I am naturally a bit reluctant to make a glowing prediction in its favor. However, it is certainly a very well thought out product, and it’s hard not to talk about it. What’s more, no matter how Google positions it (as a social network focusing on the needs of smaller groups of people?), it’s hard not to think of it as a potential Facebook killer.
But not so fast.
Traffic on Google+ largely comprises of people who are tech savvy. Most of the postings have actually been penned by Googlers, which is not surprising given that their bonuses are tied to Google’s success in social
. What is even more interesting is that the bulk of the discussion on Google+ has been about Google+. Like any fad, it has its initial popularity but it could well run out of steam very soon.
In Google’s defense, the roll out has been intentionally limited and mostly to Googlers themselves. Also, whether or not Google+ will succeed will largely depend on the feedback from early adopters and improvements made early on. Therefore, Google is doing the right thing by maintaining the roll out on a limited scale.
Google+’s much hyped advantage in providing privacy through the use of circles is also overblown. Circles are not intuitive to grasp as can be seen from the table below (the table still does not talk about extended circles, and visibility on the web). Several users have written blogs on how to understand and leverage circles. While that might be interesting to tech savvy users, ordinary users are more likely to be confounded than be able to take advantage. In that sense, Google+ is more of a Twitter like "experiment" in that its popularity is primarily amongst the tech savvy, and therefore relies on the end users to trigger innovation (for example, mentions and hashtags were essentially started by Twitter's end users).
From that perspective, it is hard for me to imagine an average Facebook user switching to Google+ anytime soon, if at all. All of my current friends and followers on G+ are school mates, or people who are generally comfortable using newer platforms and technologies. Until and unless my non tech savvy friends (much of my family on Facebook is relatively new to Facebook) start using G+, I am going to remain skeptical of its mass appeal.
Most importantly, ask anyone who knows a thing or two about network effects
and she is likely to tell you that the personal social networking market as we know it has already tipped in favor of Facebook. With 750 million users, and immense data in terms of social graphs and user activities, it will be a daunting challenge to for anyone to compete with Facebook. While many reasons have been given in hindsight for why Buzz didn’t succeed, the biggest of all might just have been social media fatigue: Users already have an array of choices on where to post their status updates. It will take a miracle to make the majority see value in adopting yet another platform.
But Google has identified what might be the biggest weaknesses of Facebook. One is privacy. Facebook has generally been less regardful of its users when changing its privacy policies. Even most tech savvy users have little clue as to which elements of their profile are visible to the public. Google+ on the other hand vows to put privacy first. This is in stark contrast to Mark Zuckerburg’s ideology of making people get more comfortable with "sharing stuff". While that might be Mark's mission, few users welcome the thought.
While some might say that Google+ is trying to do too much and some have even said that it will kill Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! Mail, and others, that’s going a bit too far. Its ability to follow celebrities is actually a welcome addition and a very well conceived one. Initially when my stream is scarcely populated by my friends, I seldom note the scarcity since most of my stream is populated with celebrities such as Michael Dell or people who have me in their circles but not vice versa. This ensures that Google+ maintains a healthy level of traffic which is the equivalent of a lifeline at this stage.
|Some of the most interesting posts in my stream have been by people I don't know|
|Yet another post in my Incoming section|
Other formidable weapons in Google’s arsenal include its deep pocket and strong relationships with businesses. Facebook will now be forced to take its development partners more seriously. So far Facebook has generally played bully: Zynga, the biggest player on the Facebook platform has generally not had a cordial relationship with Facebook but Zynga had limited choice. It may now have more options. Facebook’s policy of taking a 30% cut will be easily beaten by Google. Google's OpenSoical might become popular after all, and might present a welcome alternative to Facebook's closed platform.
I said it when Buzz launched, and will say it again: Google’s portfolio of web products is far richer than Facebook’s. Facebook started as a social network, and thought it could take on any product by leveraging its extant social graph. Conversely Google starts with a slew of hit products (Picassa, Android, Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Voice, GTalk, Youtube, Groups, Place, Latitude to name a few), but needs to incorporate social elements in them. So far their attempts have been unsuccessful. But frankly, after Orkut capitulated to Facebook, Google has really not launched a direct competitor to Facebook. Now it has. And it is better engineered, well designed (if not fancy, it is very intuitive and a pleasure to use for most part), and thanks to G+ bar, might already have more cumulative traffic than Facebook.
Finally, Google despite not having a social network of its own, has already forged a series of connections via Android Phonebook, Gmail, and others. Don’t be surprised if Facebook starts a legal war against Google on many fronts.