Thoughts on Social Media, Television, Media, Startups & Technology.

Google+ is a nod to a changing game

Many have said “Google has once again entered the social networking game with Google+”  

Newsflash they never really left, they have been in the space – orkut has been around for years and many of Google’s products and their products’ features incorporate social sharing and publishing (think picasa, blogger… even reader has a “share” option.)

The + in Google+ is really just the profile (I’ll explain that a little later in this post, and I’m not knocking Google+ huge kudos to the developers & engineers that have built it)


Google+ in my opinion is an attempt by Google to bring all those little pieces of the social pie its’ built together in one “harmonous” experience.

(it’s not there yet and one shouldn’t expect it to be… this is after all a “beta” – plus you’ve got to save some news for month 2,3,4 etc. when more of Google’s services get baked into +)

+ has initially launched as “Invite only” an attempt (IMO) by Google to use a popular marketing technique to peak potential users interests in joining. I’ve already been asked numerous times on the social web “can you send me an invite… I got to see it… I’m hearing all about it… I want in”

That release approach has been successful in generating that coveted “social buzz” that’s made many a product popular… In my own mind… this is Google releasing a major new product… that need for “social buzz” on some level is… well… not needed.

I got an invite, explored it and have been spending a good amount of time there and what I can say is Google+ is… well… it’s facebook – but with some important distinctions.

Those distinctions primarily being 1. It’s going to tie Google Services together more (admit it they are somewhat fragmented) 2. That it’s easier to control privacy, and easier to control who you share your content which in turn makes it easier to filter noise – a complaint that is often talked about when it comes to facebook (and one this facebook user shares.)


If that ease of privacy control is supposed to be the “killer feature” (and I don’t think it is) facebook can offer the same over time if it feels it’s losing out – I say if facebook feels like it’s losing out… because they are years ahead of where Google is today both in terms of the number of social users, and in the business of being “social”.

Google+ in my opinion is really more about pulling all that Google does together a lot better than it has (and getting hold of better data to target ads with.)

I’ve read many posts that say that Google + is not “innovative” I disagree -it is- It’s Google re-positioning all of it’s products into a much more cohesive package, on some level “un-learning” and laying down a new foundation for innovation. 

Let’s breakdown Google+ some and get to my point about the + just being the profile.

  • You’ve got “circles” – specific groups of people you share and interact with, not always sharing the same things or interacting in the same way… kind of sounds like lots of different networks… or one could say… sounds a bit like orkut… it just got a little more “personal”.
  • You’ve got “sparks” -to get a constant feed of stuff you’re really into, and then you can share it with friends… feels a lot like “Google Alerts” but more social – taking them out of the inbox and into a real-time feed.
  • You’ve got “hangouts” – a chat you can start anytime, from anywhere with up to ten people – or in other words they took another feature that was locked in your inbox in gmail and allowed you to talk with more people at once in a more “social” setting.

Kind of get my point now? This is why I view the + part of Google+ really just being that semi-public profile… (but in reality you had one of those with Google before too though – it just wasn’t sexy looking like + is, and you couldn’t shoot out an update without jumping over to buzz) Overtime look for all of Google services like docs, calendar etc. getting integrated deeply into + bringing us a new “Google”.

Is Google+ a facebook “killer”

Not likely – these two services at the end of the day will be completely different animals.

Google+ in my opinion is going to win over enterprise users – users that want a social platform for doing business e.g. I want my co-workers to be up to date with XYZ, I want my business contacts to be up to date with ABC – this isn’t what a lot of people use facebook for (although facebook has made users familiar with sharing in this type of online environment) – it’s not facebook that needs to be worried – it’s the likes of Yammer, linkedin, microsoft, (even 37 signals to some extent) that need to worry. That enterprise use may also be a reason Google has asked businesses to stay off of + for now…other than also wanting to provide a better “page” experience for business pages.

Facebook is more about “social life” rather than work, yes folks do self promote there, have pages, business contacts, but that “social” is different on fb… I’m more apt to get a photo of a family dinner on my wall vs. having a business contact post “I need the last RFP numbers for this deck…” on my wall. At the same time Google+ sets up an environment where those interactions can be filtered.

Facebook is the most successful social network there has ever been (but so was MySpace once… remember them… so maybe one day I’ll eat crow) So many users are deeply entrenched there having used it for years now, do they have room or do they want to re-establish all their relationships and content somewhere else – not likely. As I’ve said I think at the end of the day, Google+ is not trying to be facebook, and is not looking to become facebook, there is a entirely different platform play here.

Another key factor here is that unlike other social networks, facebook’s growth has been solid, and it continually improves it’s platform – changing it frequently to give people something new and keep them busy so that they don’t become bored and think of going outside of facebook (works for most users, but not for all users.)

They’ve also already broken ground in that all too difficult task of currying favor with Marketers, Advertisers, Social Game Developers, Media, Content Providers, Communities, even Revolutionaries…. the list of those that have “bought” into fb could go on and on…

Moreover facebooks’ performance has challenged the other web giants businesses who are/were not into the social networking game. Not only are they siphoning off revenue, but also key talent. Google itself has been affected a lot by the growth of facebook on both of these fronts.

(Personally I think the talent Google has lost and is losing has hurt them more than the revenue to date.)

The other thing facebook has going for it… Google+ does not have it’s own powerful branding as a social network, yes Google is an amazingly powerful brand but Google+ is a sub-product of google and not a singular social network brand.

Ad income and the changing game

Historically Google’s main income has come from advertising (Google Ads) and after facebook started its’ advertising platform (Facebook Ads) advertisers where given another, sometimes, more powerful choice… facebooks Ads provide some unique demographic targeting opportunities that search engines and content networks can’t or couldn’t provide. Google needs that public profile demographic data for ad targeting, a social network is the best way to get there quick.

Users… They spend longer lengths of time during facebook sessions and consume more pages over that session on fb, then when they run a Google search, in my opinion leading to an audience that may be more apt to “acting” on a potential ad, and an audience one can charge more for. Google needs users to spend longer amounts of time with them outside of a gmail inbox (this contentious point itself could be another post so I’ll stop there.)

All things considered Google much bigger than facebook and the advertising revenue Google brings in is much higher than Facebook… with +… over time Google will likely be able to provide the same sort of demographic targeting that Facebook does…fb will likely still be able to continue to grow revenue and so will Google either way the game is changing.

The game is changing on a fundamental level… advertising is important and will likely always be, but it’s going to change greatly over the next 10 years… users are spending their time online differently, and are doing it in fewer places through a traditional browser… I’m an early adopter… I live on facebook, twitter, tumblr, getglue; I use apps on my iPhone that get me my news and access my mail, RSS feeds, photos etc. I get answers through Q&A sites like Mahalo and Quora and above all I listen to my peers – they’re opinion will always trump that of a search engine — I see fewer “traditional” online ads – (I’m likely going to piss off everyone in the Search Engine world… but I’m telling you that search engine is going to change… it will have a place, it will be around, but on a fundamental level I do believe it will be different.) 

I may be “online” but I’m doing it approx. 75% less so in front of a browser on a laptop using Google as my start page… I used to use Google to find things, and visit thousands of websites because Google pointed me there… but now I use google for mail, documents, communicating… and use discovery & recommendation engines a lot more, things that exist in apps like foursquare… that find me things they already know I like or around the places I like… I used to spend a lot of time on places like Youtube, DailyMotion, Hulu, “searching” for good content, but now netfilx streams right into my tv or into the palm of my hand, (it also recommends things to me.) I go to those other video sites when someone I know sends me something or a piece of text content that I’m already subscribed to or has been recommended to me because I’m interested in it sends me there… “we” are shifting our habits quickly… that ad revenue driven through traditional search as it exists today is going to dwindle when we look 10 years out… it’s not about search anymore – it’s about recommendations, and the right recommendations – Google’s game is going to change and they need to “innovate” Google+ is one of the first steps of that innovation (like Android before it.)

At the end of the day I’m more likely (and I think others are too) to act on a recommendation from a friend than an ad or random piece of content I find through search – what both facebook and google are trying to do in their own ways is get access to that recommendation or “discovery” and get an ad somewhere in-between, while at the same time evolving their businesses and positioning themselves for changes in the game.

Why does Google want to get into the social networking business?

Simple answers:

  • Enterprise Social Platform Product
  • The Changing Game
  • Better Targeting for Advertising
  • Expanding it’s “Concurrent User Base” around specific interest “channels”

Enterprise platform I spoke to earlier in this post… that’s my shot in the dark.

The changing game is upon Google and many others…

The improved targeting is needed, and needed now, facebook is doing it, advertisers are demanding it…

The concurrent users around an interest – You can’t expand a concurrent user base around a single topic in a bigger way these days than you can with social networking. (P.S. This is where and why Twitter does really well in terms of advertising with it’s promoted trends)

Why is a concurrent user base important? It’s about those big advertising dollars – the reason popular TV shows back in the 20th century could charge and bring in bundles of cash… the more faces you have looking at something at once… the more you can charge for those eyeballs. The type of advertising dollars that started disappearing when TV audiences started shrinking as they migrated to the web (and also became a lot more fractured as they did so)  

I guess if you made it to the end of this post you may ask yourself… does he like Google Plus? Yes! – Google+ is a huge step in the right direction for Google, I like it.

What I would love to see from Google+ and I’m sure will come in time:

  • Work out the bugs
  • Open up the platform for third-party developers (seriously I don’t want to upload/update etc. in more places – make it easy for me by making it easy for developers to add you as a sharing option in their apps/sites)
  • Google Analytics Integration

For more on Google+ Check out some of the videos on YouTube

About Chris Zilo

Ideation + Execution. Mission Driven Startup Guy & Early Adopter obsessed w/ all things tech. Former Third Culture Kid.