Monday, October 15, 2012

The Real "Google+ Ghostbuster's Kit" Contains a Billion Users (Batteries Not Included)

Google+ fan Mike Elgan published The Google+ Ghostbuster's Kit to help anyone in need of livening up their Google+ experience.  It's not very good.  (Did you know you can block people who annoy you?  Don't have anyone to follow?  I got some friends I can loan you.)  It's not a bad read if you are looking for a little more from Google+ than you currently have, if only to circle his "League of Extraordinary Circle Friends" and hope for the best.

Elgan's sentiment is that the Google+ "ghost town" critics "don't get it" because they're not using Google+ to its potential; if only they would circle people, post, and comment, then they would understand.  I'm not sure Elgan "gets" the critics.  It is not that easy to see the viability of Google+ from a marketplace (money) or cultural perspective.  Will Google+ shape the next ten years or will it be just a service that some people use?  The ghost town critics have raised this very question.  Tried to.  Sort of.  Okay, they've basically just said Google+ sucks and Google should take its social network and (improve it??)  But it's the effort that counts (no matter how many friends they lose or people they leave dead and bloodied and dying along the way).

I'm not fond of the "ghost town" critics myself.  But I feel like someone should address them directly.  Lovers of Google+ (warning:  massive generalization ahead) always pick arguments that, while worthy of recognition, completely miss the point.  Here are some:

  • Google+ has interesting people on it [even though Google+ has none of your friends on it].
  • If you post on Google+ you get lots of "engagement."  The conversation on Google+ is more intelligent than it is on Facebook and Twitter.  [Hey, famous people (journalists included), you're famous!  Not everybody is famous.  Sheesh.]
  • Google+ is the social layer of Google [which means that, as a destination, it has no obligation to be appealing because it's not a destination].
  • Google+ is awesome because [reason(s) that the product itself is good; (not bad for a start to a cohesive argument, but still avoids addressing critics directly)].

Google+ does indeed have interesting people.  I'm one of them.  Go circle me.  You could have found me through search, not know who I am, but not care, because I'm interested in things your interested in.  You can use Google+ that way; there's value there, absolutely.  It's important to look at that, as well as observing what value is missing from the picture.  The people you follow on Twitter aren't necessarily active on Google+; same goes for your friends on Facebook.

Google+ does serve as a social layer and that is of much potential benefit to Google users.  But without your friends, every integration with Google+ runs into a dead end.  Also, certain integrations of Google services into Google+ require that users be visiting their streams and posting content to Google+ before any benefit can be had.

If Google+ had a billion users, you would be able to connect with all or most of your friends, as well as people you don't know but choose to follow.  It doesn't.  Yes, Google+ doesn't have to have a billion users to provide value to Google users, but Google does have to have a billion Google+ users (or maybe just 500 million) if it wants to provide the kinds of value having a billion users can offer.

Google+ with a billion users:

  • All the value of Facebook, a lot of the value of Twitter, and more.
  • "Social layer" of Google.

Google+ as it stands:

  • Value comparable to that of Twitter, but different, and limited.
  • Limited value from "social layer."

I love Google+, but I'd love it even more with a billion users.  Google+ won't have a billion users anytime in the next six months.  But how many users will it have in the next six years?  Ten years?  Fifteen?

This post is the first of a continuing series about why the conversations around Google+ aren't any good.  In future posts, I'll explain what I like about Google+, explore Google+ as a social layer of Google, do some speculation about the future of Google+, and opine on why people shouldn't say Google doesn't "get" social.