It’s time to drop some off-the-cuff punditry. (Kidding.) I’m sitting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for boarding one of a long series of flights, on a trip that’s been going on for the better part of a week. So when I got my Google+ invite, I hardly had time to check it out – besides through the mobile app on Android.
And I have to say: I’m impressed.
Disclaimer one: As we see a lot of bashing on one, and hyperbole on the other end of the spectrum, I’ll try to stay clear of all that. If you don’t like moderate blog posts, skip this one. Disclaimer two: I once worked on a small project for Google, and I’ve been (on and off) a member of the Google-initiated Internet & Society Collaboratory in Berlin (a multi stakeholder initiative, unpaid).
So! Is Google+ a Facebook killer? Nonsense, of course not. There’s a time and a place for Facebook, and the level of convenience as well as the incredible reach that Facebook has reached makes it unlikely to go away anytime soon. However – Facebook has been feeling stale and old for quite some time, and they have fumbled privacy so many times it’s hard to imagine that they really tried. Whatever their agenda is, protecting their users doesn’t seem to be part of it. If we’re lucky – and I must say I hope so – then Google+ might help nudge Facebook just that tiny bit closer to become more like MySpace: still around, but really, really irrelevant.
G+ is, however, the first serious and promising large scale attempt to offer a serious alternative to Facebook. While I’ve been really crossing my fingers for Diaspora – and it has become relatively neat over time – it’s not a very lively space.
The way Google has connected all the dots and learned from all the ways other platforms as well Google themselves were criticized is quite impressive. It’s obvious that a lot (!) of thought and resources have been poured into G+. Even the awkward loose ends like “+1” and their other social near-failures seems to fit right in. And while of course only time will tell how protective of our privacy G+ will be, there are a number of interesting and very promising paradigms at work here. For one, sharing is much more granular – the “circles” metaphor works well. Group chat (“huddles”) works smoothly.
The mobile app is fantastic, and the notion of separating between a stream for your circles and “nearby” conversations happening allows for temporary local networks. Imagine you’re at a conference or concert, and instead of doing the awkward hashtag thing, you just see what people around you are saying. This could change quite a bit.
And one thing is certain: Since Google dropped G+ right into the Google navigation bar (along with mail, calendar etc) shows it really prominently whenever you have a touchpoint with another Google webservice – if you’re a knowledge worker these days, that means basically all the time. The integration with the other services, as far as I could tell, works very smooth, too. Google has managed to connect all the dots, and a very decent picture emerged.
Maybe it happened at random, but the fact that Google Calendar and Gmail also got a new, freshly designed interface just makes Google look that much more attractive than just a few days ago.
Of course, we’re seeing only the beginning of what will probably a long iterative process. The not-yet-quite obvious effects are hard to grasp at this point, where the beta users are only trying out what exactly it is that Google+ is even capable of. But besides becoming another big social network (which I’m sure G+ will become very quickly), I expect Google search results to become a lot more relevant.
When G+ will be available on iOS I don’t know. But Google has at least proven one thing: That despite their reputation they actually know how to do social. They’re a bit late to the game, but with G+ they put a stake in the ground.
This is going to be interesting to watch.
ps. For a very decent overview and analysis, this WIRED article is a must read.