First steps with Google + : a not that social broadcasting tool

Summary : Google + burst into our lives with a lot of noise. This omnipotent killer application is supposed to revolutionize our tools and usage and, incidentally, give its competitors the kiss of death. But what’s really happening ? Behind a sober and exemplary user interface, a tool with an impressive interface even if it’s still in its early days. But there’s still a lot to be done before it becomes adult. The power of circles won’t be enough to hide the lack of a true community side, the absence of an API makes it hard to integrate in an already busy social context. As for guessing whether it can become an enterprise or not…the road is both long and unclear. In the end, Google + as it is today comes one year too late and it needs many lacks to be fixed before being seen as the tool of the future, despite an impressive potential. Google + may be a future rockstar…if its manager makes the right decision.

I’m very late at writing this post but it’s hard to judge a new tool in a couple a day, most of all when it’s a beta that may be quickly improved. Most of all, in the first days we all look to new applications either with lovers eyes or with rejection. So waiting a little to calm down is necessary.

I will start with a warning. Social as it is, any tool depends on each user’s context and needs. In other words, I’ll refer to my own experience and context and I’m not pretending that what is true for me will be true for anyone.

1°) Fluidity, soberness, efficiency

At first sight, Google + makes a very good first impression. We’ll discuss the possible future of the tool in the enterprise in another post but one things is sure : many major vendors should have a look at Google +’ interface. Sober design easy to access and understand functionalities, using Google + is a smoot and pleasant experience. Obviously, they have learnt a lot from Google Wave.

2°) The concept ? Nothing new !

To explain Google plus in a few words, I’d say that it’s halfway between a blog and a microblogging tool, that any entry is shared either publicly or with a group of people (gathered into “circles” or with only one person. Much more powerful that many tools Google plus competes with. But…

A couple of years ago, at the prehistoric age of social software, someone told me about a kind of personal notepad where each entry could be shared with on person, one or several communities. Unity for the author, granularity for the audience. It happened in the last days of 2005…was working well and is still working. It has a name : blueKiwi (many tools have adopted the same logic until then). Sincerely I could not refrain from laughing the first time I tried Google Plus, telling to myself  : “Ah…with all their money and resources, 20% of employees’ time dedicated to innovation…it took them 6 years to reinvent blueKiwi and others…Congrats guys!”.

Ok. What makes the difference is circles.

3°) Circles are not communities and Google + is not social

Generally, social tools allow to address people or groups of people (often called communities). Groups or communities mean that any member is able to speak and start a discussion and not only answer to what someone else has said…which is the case for circles in Google Plus. For example, I can share something with a circle named “enterprise 2.0” and the people in this circle will be able to answer and join the discussion. But if anyone wants to share something with the same circle, he should put it in the current thread of clone my circle…what is not possible as I write (except manually….good luck).

Considering the “people/user-centric” logic of the tool, that seems more the consequence of the logic than a lack or a mistake. But I’m not sure it will cover all the usages people are used to.

So, Google + looks more like tool designed for mass or targeted broadcasting than a social tool in the usual meaning of the word, with a community dimension. Receivers are quite passive and should stay in the place and role the senders decide.

4°) Circles : brilliant trick or intricate project ?

Circles are very good for two reasons : targeting and privacy. Targeting because if I want to talk about many subjects, I can segment my audience. Privacy because I can restrict some things to a couple of chosen people.

But the problem with circles is their dual nature. They help me to choose with whom I share and what appears on my timeline. But if I want to share things with people without reading everything they share I should have two kind of circles : one to filter incoming information, one to target people for outgoing information. Headaches ahead for whom wants to manage all this….

I hear more and more people telling that they don’t remind who they put in which circle…or having wanted to manage things with such a granularity that they never know which circles to choose and, in the end, decide to make everything public.

Last, depending on who puts whom into which circle to filter incoming messages, no one can be sure someone you’ve shared something with got the message. It’s a part of the philosophy of the tool but may make many users very uncomfortable.

5°) Who will be killed by Google +

Facebook is dead. Twitter is dead. What is wonderful in our small world (don’t forget that the people who’ve been using Google Plus at the beginning were not representative of the average internaut at all) is that every time a new tool comes people feel forced to shot the existing ones and predict their future death to be able to say “I was right”. It’s also nice for one’s ego because it sends another message to the others “I’m using the tool that will kill yours…and you’re not in at this time”.

To be honest, in my own and personal usage, Google Plus did not hurt anyone. It couldn’t harm Facebook because I don’t use it a lot (Facebook is the OS that runs Cityville, isn’t it ?) and I like the concision of twitter’s 140 characters that makes it easy for me to have a comprehensive look at my timeline in one second what is not possible with Google Plus. Twitter still misses a more structured comment systems and longer contents but as I often say, if you need structured discussions and more room…open a blog !

So I could use Google + as a blog. But I already have own and I don’t trust Google more than Facebook when it comes to intellectual property. If I invest my time in writing, that’s not to give it to companies that can decide they own it. Those tools will always get a couple of lines of what I write elsewhere….with a link to bring readers to the original content.

As the famous Quebec blogger Michelle Blanc, said : “these tools are only channels people use to find my content and discuss….but the factory will stay on my blog”. And I add : a tool that can’t go by itselft to take its load at the factory has no interest for me. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t use Google Plus that much, waiting for API to…

This is only the consequence of my own context but, since we are in an attention economy, it was obvious that Google + didn’t find its own place in my day to day life once the end of the first weekend, when my work tools took their place back and work needed more focus. It’s sure that things will change as the tool will evolve but this is the situation as I write. The fact I can’t access Google Plus with a desktop client as I do for Twitter, Facebook and many other applications also keeps it away from my eyes at work. Finally I only use it on my mobile when I have time to kill…

To some extent, Google Plus looks rather like the application that will kill my email than any social network. With circles looking like mailing list, a good discussions system and a way to easily push information, I see G+ competing with Exchange / Notes in the futures. Thinking I’m kidding ? More to come in a future post.

6°) Google Plus : the future of business tools ?

This post is becoming too lengthy…more to come soon 🙂

7°) Conclusions

Google Plus can be seen as the future of a lot of things, even if still half-baked. I’m really looking forward to trying its future evolutions to know if it will keep its promises or if, once again, Google will show us that this kind of tool is not a part of its culture and DNA and will stop in the middle of the ford.

With an API it could have been a killer app from the very first days. Now, let’s hope it will come before we get tired of G+.

Without the API that’s a good tool…that comes at least one year too late.

So I keep Google Plus under “intensive investigation” because it teaches us lots of things…even with its current gaps.

As a matter of fact, most of things I learned by Google Plus are….not about Google plus. More to come in a future post, this one being already too long…




Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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