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Google+ ... impressed or nonplussed?
OK, then! Two weeks of Google+ under our collective belt. Who's got it all figured out?
Didn't think so. We all know that Google's brand new, mysterious-around-the-edges social network (is it really a social network?) may well be the Next Big Thing. Many of us have clamored madly for an invitation and then, once we got in to Google+, stayed up really, really late trying to figure out what to do with it. A lot of us - even though Google says it's cracking down on these - have started up business pages. (LJWorld.com has one; check it out.) And some of us, like Computerworld's Mike Elgan, have decided to swear off all other modes of e-communication.
But when it comes down to it, what are we actually supposed to do with Google+ that we can't do with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, StumbleUpon or any one of innumerable other social networks? Vincent Wong has a fantastic (so much so that you've probably seen it already) photo deck on "What G+ is really about" - and no, it's not social media. Wong's premise is simple: Google+ is about moving everything possible into the cloud, and the ramifications that come with that. That little gray bar that's at the top of all your Google windows now? It includes links to Google-ized substitutes for all the applications most of us use on our earthbound computers, and Wong suggests that our eventual uptake on those apps is part of a "blue ocean" strategy by Google. In other words, while you can still use Google+ to share, +1, comment or tell everyone what you had for dinner - just like the existing social paradigm that Facebook does so well - Google's integration of those "social" goodies with true app-based collaboration opportunity (apportunity?) is the real game changer, what's trading the "red ocean" of cut-throat social media platform competition with a brand new market no one's conquered yet. (Oh, and the link above is to a G+ photo gallery; if you're still not on the service, you can view it on Posterous too.)
The thing is, Google+ just isn't there yet. To be fair, two weeks into the game, we shouldn't expect it to be. Anyone who remembers hanging out on Facebook during its early days (I got on in 2006, which was already coming in pretty late in the day) can remember how much it often felt like, well, a sandbox. Google+ is the same way - which, if you're trying to figure out where your business plan fits into this whole mess, can be really frustrating - but at the same time, it's tremendously exciting. And, unlike Facebook in its formative years, the development of Google+ is remarkably transparent. As you'd expect, there are a ton of Google developers already living their lives on G+, and they're asking for feature suggestions and talking about cool stuff that's coming up next. (Regardless of how bumpy of a ride that may end up being, it's certainly refreshing to be able to take part in a two-way exchange of information after being stonewalled by Facebook for years!)
So what do we do with Google+ right now? Play with it, primarily. Until business profiles are officially sanctioned, folks who are interested in G+ for their businesses are pretty much limited to signing on as individuals and getting used to the interface and functionality. And this may be a good thing: At present, Google+ is about individual people and how they relate, how the social circles we form in real life might be best replicated by Google's Circles features. It's not yet to this point, of course, but the collaboration opportunity that Wong mentions in his slideshow is already changing the shape of Google+. The Wong slide deck is an example of this in itself; the extent to which it's made the rounds will almost certainly have an effect on some of the next G+ features released. And if you think about that, it's really pretty revolutionary. Facebook and other first-generation social networks gave birth to a concept of crowdsourcing; now, we're able to use that crowdsourced power to help build the social network we really want. A developer friend of mine who's been exploring those concepts in a series of very lucid posts on the dynamics of online communities puts it perfectly:
As a software developer this sort of thing really gets my attention, in the same way badly designed software does. It reveals that no one is thinking about it. We are adapting to what we have, instead of adapting what we have to what we need.
It is an interesting and valuable project to architect software that works seamlessly with how people think and how they actually interact with real world communities, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, especially when I see the inadequacies every day and I know it could be better.
So he thinks, writes, posts, and shares with the world - including the people who are building the network. We couldn't have visualized anything like this in Facebook's early days.
What do you want in your ideal social network? How would it behave like the communities you engage with in real life? Share in the comments below.