So that’s what Google has been working on for the past year+. Google made it official in their Google+ blog post that Google is going full bore (again) into “social”. Word is that this slow public release (think early days of Gmail, but maybe even slower) is designed to prevent failures like Google Buzz and Google Wave by letting a few people in at a time and (assumedly) making adjustments along the way. Beyond “hey can I get an invite…” all of us are really wondering “will it work, will it be any good”.
Since I haven’t seen anything other than the videos on the blog post (I thought they were pretty good) and it seems like the only folks have the entire inside scoop are the folks at Wired. The epically long post on Wired about Google+ gives a lot of inside detail on how Google + came to be, but not much on was Google+ is or will be. That challenge seems to be left to the rest of us.
From the videos (I suggest watching them all), I see that Google+ is trying to do three things at once: help you find things, help you share things, and help you segment the groups you find and share with. We know that Facebook hasn’t done a great job at segmentation. Twitter, I think, is even worse. Yeah I “follow” 6000 some odd people, but in reality I really only pay attention to some 1500-2000 across 4 different lists. Still a lot, but I can’t actually (or practically) segment terribly much more. Twitter list creation and curation is a pretty sad affair. Now, this is where Google+ is supposed to come in. The idea is you want to share stuff, but sometimes not with everyone, but also not just with one person or a couple people.
Here’s a case in point that strikes to Google+ and the idea of Circles, Sparks, Huddles, and Hangouts is trying to get at. So lots and lots of us watched Game of Thrones recently. Awesome, amazing series, full of great action and storytelling. Of course they started out as a series of books. Five books actually (4 out, the 5th coming next month) and I started reading them in the first or second week of the show. I also finished book one before episode 3 or 4. I finished book 2 before the series ended and finished book 3 last night and started book 4. Now, I know that I have friends who haven’t read any of the books, friends who are reading the books now, and friends who have read most or all of them. If I tweet out “OMG I can’t believe that character is dead!” It’s going to spoil it for people who haven’t seen all the episodes (e.g. I knew Ned Stark was going to die and that Danerys was going to become the “Mother of Dragons” long, long ago) or gotten to that part of the series.
But what if I want to share stuff? And exclaim … Wow that was an amazing chapter!
I need to segment.
At its heart I think that’s what Google+ is getting at. There is so, so much out there that we often forget about the close groups who we really want to share things with. We also forget that often there are overlapping groups that look like bizarre Venn diagrams. My impression is that Google+ is aiming to be a dashboard of sorts. Something richer, more searchable, and more interactive than Facebook currently is. I don’t think Google is gunning for Twitter. I don’t think Google is trying to sink Facebook, but this is going to be a warning shot across their bow. The “we’re rolling up siege engines to you walls and we know we can starve you out” kind of threat. Facebook might be big, but Google has cash. I know that if Facebook disappeared tomorrow people would be miffed, but if Google went offline a lot of work would grind to a halt. What does that say about the importance of Google and its social graph?
It’s way, way too soon to know if Google+ is going to reshape how we use the Internet, but at its core I think the engineers at Google understand that how we use the Internet and exist online has changed rapidly and drastically from what it was even a couple years ago. Facebook isn’t innovating, they’re honing what they have. Twitter is becoming almost like an appliance like email or IM. So the only thing Google has to do is seize the chance to (again) change how we do things.
Think they can do it?
Update: Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post on RWW (and he—lucky bastard—has actually gotten to use Google+) mirrors my own first takes (without having used it).
Originally posted on the Future Shop Tech Blog