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Two cents worth on Google+

When Google+ launched at the end of June, there was huge amount of hype about the latest attempt at social from Google. Over the first 3 – 4  weeks, it was all very positive with various statements about it being a Facebook and/or Twitter killer. Towards the end of July and into August, attitudes seemed to change with concern about the large number of accounts being dormant and unused (apparently only 13% of the 25m accounts are active in any way and a lot only have a few posts). Rather than jump in with an early verdict on the network, I have taken time to get used to it before making any judgements.

This is a slightly long post but it is broken down between my perception of the Postives, Negatives and the Future for Google+.

Positives

  • Kick in the rear for other networks: Some networks had been inactive with regards to innovation recently and G+ will hopefully provide them with the incentive to develop new tools and functionality. In the last two weeks we have seen LinkedIn and Foursquare improve their mobile apps and Twitter is introducing some new functionality including better image management and viewing in your stream. The word is also that Facebook is working on new tools, some of which were announced on Tuesday night. Hopefully there is more to come from everyone.
  • Combine the best of others: Google obviously has taken its time to roll out this network allowing it to learn from other networks. The use of circles is similar to Twitter Lists. Sparks is a mix of following trends or hashtags and Google Alerts.
  • Variety of content formats in your feed: – within your feed you can see images, text, animated gifs, videos, and comments along with “+1s”. Similar to Facebook in this way, it allows for viewing more content without clicking.
  • Ease of set up and starting: Set-up is straight forward and it is easy to integrate your email account to find contacts. There is a negative side to this (more below).
  • Better reading experience than Twitter: As the volume of content types is wider than Twitter, this means you see more before you click.  You can see the first lines of an article along with some comments from other “Plusers”. Again, less wasted clicks to articles of content that are not of interest, which happens a lot with Twitter. Clicks with Twitter come from great headlines, while with G+ you need to have a good headline and killer first paragraph. The poster has to work harder but the clicks are probably of more value.

Negatives

  • Mobile experience: The G+ iPhone app is poor for a lot of reasons. Some commentators are going easy on Google for this, claiming it is still in beta. However given how much they can learn from other apps and their mobile knowledge, the bar is set higher for G+. The inability to share posts you like with your followers is a basic functionality which cannot be achieved with the app. For a social network app, this has to be a large #FAIL!
  • Inactive accounts and incomplete profiles: At the start, Google+ was invite only, however rapidly it became very easy to get an invite. Those with the ability to send invites did so freely and generally those who received one, registered, added contacts from their email accounts to their circles and did no more. Hence the large number of inactive accounts and accounts which have no profiles, pictures or biogs. Potentially overtime as people come back, we will see an increase in participation. 
  • Management via third parties such as TweetDeck, HootSuite: It is regularly shown that the number of people who tweet via Twitter.com is low and most users manage their accounts via 3rd party tools such as TweetDeck and HootSuite (hence the acquistions of Tweetie and TweetDeck by Twitter). These tools allow management of multiple accounts and posting to multiple networks. Currently, to the best of my knowledge, you can only post to G+ via plus.google.com or their app
  • Content topics: While the variety of topics has been growing recently, there is still a lot of chatter about G+ on G+ and other tech topics. This would reflect the tech bias of the active accounts
  • Location: – When posting on G+, you can post with details of your location. However when I have tried this from the App and from a desktop, it has always been inaccurate – out by kilometres rather than meters.
  • Scrolling: Slightly in contradiction to some of the positives, since G+ displays part of each post and sometimes some of the comments, the length of posts can be long. This has a direct inpact on the amount of scrolling users need to do, if they have a large number of posts that they are not interested in.

The future

  • It will take time: If we work on the common assumption that G+ has 25m users but only 13% of these are active, that is still over 3m active users in two months. Think about how long it took Twitter and Facebook to reach this level of active users.
  • Integration: Google has generally not been shy sharing its tools with others (think Android) or integrating its tools across its own portfolio so expect to see more integration overtime. 
  • Yes, it is another social network to manage: We will see which of the current range of networks last and whether some of these burn brightly but fade quickly, which leads me onto my next point.
  • A killer?: A lot of the early chatter was whether G+ would kill some of the other social networks, mainly Twitter and Facebook, but will this happen?
    • Facebook – From a personal point of view, I use Facebook for personal content and LinkedIn and Twitter for professional content. Google+ Circles may allow the combination of both, but early adaptors could set the trend and direction for G+. At the moment, based on my own estimation, 95% of content is professional so this may continue. Like Facebook, G+ allows for multiple content types to be shared and this has attracted brands. On Facebook, Fan pages are growing at a greater rate than personal pages which could have an impact on the direction of Facebook content too. Facebook is protective of its users, requiring all friend requests to be confirmed, whereas G+ works on a similar set up to Twitter, where you can generally follow a user without requiring of any permission. Finally with 750m users and approx. 1 in 4 of US advertising dollars, G+ has a long way to go and only a brave man/woman would write Facebook off.
    • Twitter: If I had to choose between Facebook and Twitter, which one would be put to the sword by G+, I would say Twitter. The main reason is the lack of innovation recently by Twitter and their inability to find revenue streams. Other issues for me are that G+ allows me to quickly review a large volume of content and by reviewing either the opening section of a post or the comments I can decide if the post is worth more of my time. However with Twitter, I only have the headline to make this decision and this leads to clicks which I wish I had not made. A great headline, doesn’t make for a great post. In the defence of Twitter, sharing is more widespread and easier on the network, than currently it is on G+.
    • RSS readers: This is one area that I think could be killed off (finally) by G+. With the combinations of circles and longer posts, it could spell the end of Google Reader if the number of bloggers and publishers increase.
  • Search: With the value that brands place on search results, the integration of G+ posts with search, could direct more traffic and users to G+, especially once they roll out their brand pages.
  • Brand pages: Google has promised to roll out brand pages shortly and in the mean time is banning users from setting up pages as brands. While some people have found ways around this, generally Google has been shutting them down. If Google can crack brand pages for G+, brands and advertising spend will follow.
  • Roll out of advertising and impact on the UI: Currently G+ is ad free and it can be expected that Google will introduce advertising to the network. Based on how Google has introduced advertising to their search engine and Gmail, expect it to be well thought out and very targeted, which will appeal to brands. The UI on G+ has been praised and the challenge will be for Google to keep it aesthetically pleasing for users but impactful for brands.

Tips

Some tips to share from recent experience

  • Read in private, post in public:  While using G+’s circle feature makes categorisation of those you follow easier and also the topics of posts, by only posting to your circles, it means that anyone who wishes to follow you cannot see your posts as they are protected. Therefore, if you want to grow your influence and followers, mark your posts public.
  • Complete your profile, add a biog, profile and picture: Google+ is a new social network and with that comes the ability to discover new people to follow and interact with. If you want to be discovered, ensure you complete your biog and profiles as others you are not doing your best to sell yourself.

And that is my slight long two cents on Google+.

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