Like most of us heavily involved in tech and also having a Facebook, a Twitter, a G+, a Tumblr and an Eyemoneverything account I’ve been watching Google+ for some time as well as all Google’s prior social networking efforts. Ok, been watching Google from the beginning, either poking through client side Google Maps code on tiling workarounds for IE6’s limitation on 4 simultaneous requests per server or observing often missed optimization opportunities. Nothing unusual, after all I used to hack away at the disassembled “win.com” file from Windows 3. That’s how we patched DLLs back then.
Before I put together my objections, I need to mention that I’m a big admirer of Google, my favorite company when it comes to being able to get something done so that it actually performs. It is also a company with impressive dedication to life changing projects such as the self driving car and a lot more (Google X).
And now G+. I could only guess that in the end it came down to numbers, to traffic numbers that show shift in volumes from Google to the other social network (I’m sure Twitter didn’t help much either). Whatever the exact diagnosis was, it must have been a high level of distress to cause Google to frantically try reinventing the wheel instead of building the car.
This is where I think the problem started and all that can be observed is that in fact G+ may not have a future as is despite the encouraging language that is often sent out from many. Will try to dissect this below from my subjective, yet unbiased point of view.
1. Facebook Does NOT Need To Be Substituted
Was a mistake to try to shift away Facebook’s users and so were attempts to copy what they do. Face it, Facebook works! Attempts to switch away are borderline hostile and due to the complex social scheme that exists now, the users would be unlikely to leave. They act as a community that is of comparable loyalty to patriots defending their own country. If I leave Facebook or Twitter, it’s huge. I am going to get questions from my friends and followers, it’s not like I quit using gMail. Can you comprehend the switching cost? Divorce is not that far on the list.
And sure one may say Altavista was taken out exactly through this approach, but I will then bring in the difference in the type of product, just as mentioned above. Search is a mechanized, personal, cold if you will, product. It’s down to an input and an output. Not so with social products.
2. Embrace Reality and Build On Top of It
Here’s where the open mind is missing and that’s due to the inertia of Google’s fast, industrious pace. The proper answer would have been to praise Facebook and all what they’ve done to the online community, as well as support them and intertwine with their products.
To this day you can’t FB “like” a YouTube video clip. Does that feel like “don’t be evil" to you? See don’t be evil, when preached, also has a connotation that you don’t just sit quietly but actually do good constantly. By ignoring or working against Facebook you’re not exactly competing, you’re contradicting your principles. I will acknowledge that I’ve noticed a different approach when Twitter came out, however for many reasons I consider that relationship as underutilized as well.
And should it be that Facebook may have been overly closed or negative in any business way, Google should have still been the one with wiser plans to straighten things out.
3. Moving Away From What You’re Best At
As of this day, no one does searches as quick as Google. No one can match the performance of YouTube either and Gmail has put all other email clients to shame (the Chrome browser rocks too).
In the larger picture, the advertising machine that has been established behind all of it is nothing short of art. Google should keep innovating forward and on top of. Take a stage like Facebook as great news, great opportunity, even though yes their presence may result in a shift in revenue. Innovation is never a straight up path especially when coupled with profit; the higher you sit the bigger the challenges. The question is how do you recover and clearly Google gives a sense of panic at the thought of it.
4. Working On Too Many Products Leads to Loss of Focus
Advice from the late master of success Steve Jobs might have been given (or asked for) too late. Apple has always had only a handful of products, you can name them, whoever you are. Google on the other hand spreads itself very thin on hundreds of products. Such a broad range while not conceptually impossible, is realistically implausible to maintain in a world class leader state. This is the opposite effect of a startup and can also be demoralizing. In the meanwhile, to point out the laser focused act that both Facebook and Twitter have.
5. You’re No Longer a Startup
It is time to unscramble this. We all go through these stages and desperately try to resemble our younger selves. Perhaps split the company in two. Separate clearly core revenue products from the startup concepts. The core products are mature and need to improve in a way consistent with that path. Startup products (and teams) require a very different approach and feel. Combining these two aspects are beyond my quick suggestions though I’m sure possible.
6. Considering Facebook and Twitter Competitors Is a Misunderstanding
Social networks are not competitors. I believe it is wrong to consider even the two of them as mutual competitors. Facebook has a very different role than Twitter and we all know it from the way we use these two products. Same goes for Linkedin and the many others. If you try to imagine, you could use the UI from any of these 3 sites to present any of their feeds. But for a certain reason they are fine tuned to fit exactly unique roles.
G+ doesn’t resolve a clearly unique problem to feel viable yet. It also doesn’t have the Apple touch when it comes to design. To give an example, when Apple comes up with a product, it is received with warmth and visual delight. At worst, users may eventually spot problems and complain and stop using them (rarely).
With Google products, that’s not to be expected. Google has trained users that their new product strictly solves a problem. Google design is not meant to delight. It’s industrial, solid usability, fast and gets the job done. Perfect. So you’re expecting a mechanized next gen product kind of like Android. G+ is a risky path in this sense.
7. The Success of Products is Measured Incorrectly
When you reach the size and success of Google, it’s down right offensive to tell people that a product is doing well because it has achieved millions of users in the first X days. This is nonsense. Anything a company with the size and influence of Google does results in millions of people being affected, often instantly. Millions of signups at a simple breeze, even paid subscriptions. And due to the laws of inertial momentum, this trend will last for quite some time. This is the normal advantage that any high traffic online business has.
Measurements should instead be different and that’s a science in itself. In layman’s terms, if you’re rich and famous and dating, you need to get good at distinguishing between who loves you without fame and money and who’s just your fan.
A raw suggestion, hide the brand when testing new products or else be careful not to chip into reputation. If the product has no WOW factor, by adding that it’s “from Google”, then Google has no WOW factor either.
To Wrap Up
Many of these points are easier to talk about than actually resolve in real life, I have plenty of experience in the field and have seen how change does not happen, especially in such immense companies.
However, one can’t think this way too much. Often good solid bridges and walls need to be destroyed in order for new better ones to be put in place and reinventing oneself is an option that needs to be done extremely carefully, from altitude.