I set myself on a little experiment a couple of weeks ago. For one week, I’d use nothing but Google+, to get an unvarnished view of the newest entrant in the social media universe.
The (Self-Imposed) Rules
No reading or posting on Facebook or Twitter for one week. I asked my Google+ friends if they’d join me on my adventure. Two of 31 friends accepted. Not a good start.
Let’s begin with the interface. Google+ looks and acts a lot like Facebook. The user interface is clean and direct. Much like Facebook, the layout is centered around a “stream” of posts, but in lieu of teeny-tiny type and cluttered sidebars, Google+ is open, concise and quiet.
Up top is a list of five buttons: Home, Photos, Profile, Circles and the recently-added Games.
Home accesses your varying Streams of posts.
Photos integrates beautifully with Google’s Picasa service. It displays all your friends most recent photos. Click on one of those photos and a full browser lightbox opens to display a larger image. If you own an Android phone, the Google+ app introduces an “Instant Upload” feature that does just what it says: take a picture with your phone and it gets instantly uploaded to Google+, awaiting your approval to make it public.
Profile is… uh… your profile.
The big news out of the Google+ launch was its Circles feature. Circles (for those of you don’t follow the tech blogs) allows a user to organize their friends into smaller associated groups, like Friends, Family, Co-workers, etc. Any time you post, you can choose which Circles get to see that post. Now, if you don’t want Aunt Lulu hearing about how drunk you got last night, you can post to only your Friends circle.
This leads me to the key point of differentiation between Google+ and Facebook. Facebook defaults to open. Everyone can see everything all of the time, unless you have the savvy to comb through an antediluvian maze of settings. Google+ defaults to a more closed system. You choose who gets to see what and when.
Additionally, Google+ integrates beautifully with the rest of the Google suite of products (Gmail, YouTube, Picasa). That’s a very attractive proposition if you’re one of the millions of people checking their Gmail accounts every day.
I really like Google+. I’d love to use it every day. In fact, from a purely user-interface perspective, I’d rather use it than Facebook. There’s just this one, tiny problem with Google+…
There’s nobody there.
No offense to the two people who regularly posted and commented during my week, but wow…it was lonely in there.
You know when you’re at a party and there’s that well-put-together person with beautiful features. Strangely though, they don’t seem to be talking to anyone. So, being the swell person you are you walk over an strike up a conversation. Then you realize this person has absolutely nothing of value to say. So you find the quickest way out of the conversation and find your way back to your friends. That’s exactly how Google+ feels.
Which brings me to the big chicken-or-the-egg dilemma Google+ finds itself in at the moment: to obtain new users there as to be traffic, but to have that traffic you need new users. Maybe there will be a tipping point. Maybe there will be a MySpace moment for Facebook when everyone suddenly jumps over to Google+, but at the moment, I have no interest in spending any more time on Google+. And with the social media landscape dominated by Facebook and Twitter, marketers have no reason to use Google+ to reach there customers.
Time will tell if Google+ will finally be the social media success story Google has been searching for. But sadly, it will take either a monumental public relations disaster for Facebook, or a major paradigm shift in the mind of the population to push Google+ to the forefront of the social media landscape.