It would be hard to argue that Google isn’t successful. Starting as a Stanford research project and ballooning to a $163B market cap that is taking on every imaginable competitor that it can, you might think that there’s no space that Google can’t compete reasonably well in.
But the internet giant seems to lack success in a key area of the internet: social media. First there was Google Wave. TechCrunch called it “part email, part Twitter, and part instant messaging.” Users called it completely confusing, as it seemed like no one really knew what the hell you were supposed to do with it.
Then there was/is Google Buzz. Buzz was supposed to a brilliant way with sharing things with people you actually wanted to share them with. But it’s launch was marred by privacy concerns, lawsuits, and an eventual drop off in “buzz” as people slowly disabled the feature as it added too much noise to their Inboxes.
So with Wave and Buzz lessons in hand, Google has rolled out +Pistevo to my Google menu bar. Think of it as Facebook, but done the Google way. It’s Buzz, except it has some added features like “Hangout” where you can awkwardly group video chat. Group management is handled by what Google+ calls “Circles”. It is pretty well thought-out, though Google had the advantage here of rolling this feature out at launch, unlike Facebook. So rest assured, you can happily block Aunt Sally from your drunken rampage last Saturday night. But unfortunately you have to add Aunt Sally individually and all your other 1000 Facebook friends because it currently doesn’t integrate other services. Overall Google+ looks a lot like Facebook, feels a lot like Facebook, and acts a lot like Facebook.
Google’s “Anti-Social” UI
So everyone wants to know… is it as good as Facebook? Kind of. Google+ is a clone of Facebook, except branded with Google’s “New” UI. Google has been letting their designers do a lot of the legwork the past few months. They added a new menu bar up top, gave Maps a makeover (NICE WORK EVELYN!!!!), reskinned Gmail, and made a bunch of other tidy visual touches to its flagship search.
Google has made a lot of money on one thing: search advertising. They are quite good at it. And I am quite certain they are good at designing for it. Get users to search quickly and get them off the page quickly to drive pageviews and click traffic. That is Google’s bread and butter, and if Google+ runs on the same Google mentality it is destined to fail.
Social networks have the inherent need to be social. You hang out on Facebook because your friends/ex-lovers/creepy co-workers are all on Facebook and you spend an inordinate amount of time stalking people, you creeper. You get in, and stay in. The problem with Google+ IS that it is Googley. It fits in completely with Google’s new branding. Developed by brilliant engineers and a brilliant designer who made it perfectly Google. The more I use Google+ the more I find that I want to leave it. Get in, get out with a revenue-generating click. That’s the essence of Google. And that’s why Google just doesn’t get social.