Editorial

Dear Google: Please give Google+ a purpose

Google+ had a big week. First, Google launched Google+ Local as a replacement for Google Places, then it was revealed the site's getting an events feature, much like social networking juggernaut Facebook. But is it too little, too late? It seems like an odd proposition, since Google+ has been around less than a year. But as failed Internet endeavors of yesteryear have learned, a year on the Internet is like an eternity elsewhere: once a bad perception exists, it's hard to get rid of.

A mere two months ago, Google redesigned its social network to feature a more inviting, fresh interface. Unfortunately for the company, the majority of the site's users hardly ever use the service in the months following their first interactions with it.

It's certainly fair to point out Google+ hasn't had enough time to implement the sheer amount of features Facebook has, which may be the reason the service hasn't seen a similar zealot-like following from its users. But at the same time, when you're one of the biggest technology companies in the world, much is expected of you, even when you're entering services that are outside your core competencies.

Beyond lacking a few features, however, why hasn't Google+ caught on? Simply put, the service isn't unique in almost any way.

This isn't just an observation from an outsider. Google's former employees have made similar statements. Earlier this week, a former Google employee called the service a clone of Facebook.

"I think Google+ is an effort that does not deserve the engineering minds at Google," Spencer Tipping, former Google employee, wrote in a blog post addressing why he left Google. "This is mostly a personal bias. I see Google as solving legitimately difficult technological problems, not doing stupid things like cloning Facebook. Google, in my opinion, lost sight of what was important when they went down this rabbit hole."

Tipping's statements don't represent the first time a former Google employee's had harsh words for the company because of Google+. James Whittaker left Microsoft in 2009 to join Google as the company's test director. Earlier this year, Whittaker rejoined Microsoft with strong statements against Google's social media endeavor. Whittaker said Google felt threatened of Facebook, fearing the site could take a bite out of Google's advertising revenues.

It's no secret that Google and Facebook are quickly becoming sworn enemies. Google's long been the darling of the Internet, and it's clearly unwilling to cede its throne of Internet supremacy to Facebook. Google may have started out as a search company, but it's quickly expanded its offerings to other Internet services; Facebook, too, will likely take a similar path in time. So it makes sense that the company would want to fend itself against Facebook's expansion, but if Google wants to encroach on Facebook's turf, it needs to do so in a smarter manner.

The point is this: Social networking sites are defined by how people use them. Google's not interested in creating a social network for the purpose of being a social network, it's creating a social network in an attempt to stop advertising dollars from going to Facebook and Twitter, as Whittaker directly stated and Tipping implied.

Twitter's perceived as a great social network because users feel like they're interacting with global news. You're not just sending tweets out into the ether, you're sending them to the world to read and interact with. Users can also use the site's tagging feature to start trends that could potentially catch on nationally or globally. Facebook's perceived as a great social network because users can easily find and interact with long-lost friends, community members and best buddies. The site offers a host of features that allow personal interactions.

So what does Google+ do that will make users think it's great? Well, nothing. There's not a killer feature, nor is there a reason to use it instead of Twitter or Facebook. Instead, Google apparently hopes to redefine social media by doing the exact same things Facebook and Twitter do. It doesn't differentiate its experience; instead, it attempts to mash the features of Facebook and Twitter together haphazardly.

The one standout feature of Google+, Hangouts, is largely irrelevant because Google doesn't know what it wants its social network to be. Is it a public forum, akin to Twitter, or is it for connecting with friends, like Facebook? That's hard to say, because Google hasn't provided a vision for the site. Mark Zuckerberg has been adamant in his vision for Facebook and what the company hopes to accomplish, even if it meant ruffling the feathers of Wall Street elite. Twitter, too, has provided a vision of global interaction where users express what's happening around the world.

That's a shame, because Hangouts is truly a great feature. Sure, Facebook has its own video calling feature powered by Skype, but it doesn't offer the sheer capabilities Hangouts does. Hangouts offers the ability for up to nine users to video chat with one another; Facebook is currently limited to one-on-one video chatting. Facebook may have far more capabilities than Google+ in almost every other regard, but as far as video chats are concerned, there's no competition.

Google's stumbled in even in the most minor ways the service could differentiate itself from the most popular social network. Facebook's received heavy criticism for its privacy tools. Instead of allowing users a more private experience, however, Google seems to have gone the opposite route. The default settings for profiles are fairly open, and the site lacks more advanced privacy features than Facebook. Instead, it's essentially lock-step with its biggest rival.

This wouldn't be a problem if the network promoted openness as Twitter does, but it is a problem since the service still lacks even that basic definition. It has a rip-off of Twitter's Discover feature with its Explore tab, which even copies Twitter's trending style. At the same time the service is clearly a direct copy of Facebook in almost every other aspect.

If Google wants to copy Facebook, however, it's doing a poor job at it, as the company seems willing to let Facebook win support from third-party developers. Google is refusing to grant write access to its API, meaning developers can't post stories from applications, an issue that has deterred development on the platform. Similarly, pages on Google lack the analytic information Facebook provides, making the social network nowhere near as valuable to businesses as Facebook. This is somewhat ironic, given the statements made by prior employees that Google primarily created the platform to stop Facebook's advertising advances.

New social networks need to be unique if they're going to attempt to take on the dominance of Facebook and Twitter. Path, a relatively new social network, has separated itself from the competition by being utilized solely as a mobile application. Given the fact that mobile Internet use is seeing substantial growth, perhaps a service along Path's lines could be the future. Pinterest has found its own success too, becoming the third-most visited social network by focusing on visual interactions.

It's debatable whether or not the Internet needs Google+ to be successful, but right now it's hard to debate the site has much going for it in terms of uniqueness. Its recent redesign was nice – Facebook's home page could use a redesign over its currently cluttered state – but it didn't address the main problem the site faces: why should people use it? Right now, Google's not giving it much purpose. Throwing money at a problem will only do so much. To be successful, Google's going to have to do much more than that.

Google+ isn't a bad service. It just does nothing to differentiate itself from the competition.

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The one thing i do like about google plus is the photo sharing. I can take a bunch of photos during the day and they are immediately uploaded to my google plus account where i can share them. At anytime. No syncing my phone, no hooking up cables. I transfered all my flickr photos there too. Love that!

Google+ is a great way to privately communicate with specialized "private circles." That's the issue though, a lot of the communications going on in private circles aren't seen by 99.99% of the people visiting.

I think it's purpose is to just hang around and wait for Facebook to finally tank... which will near certainly happen now it has to monetise every aspect of it's business to appeal to investors (.. example: http://thedailygoodiebag.com/2...ats-best-please-share-this/

I don't use Google plus.. why? I don't really understand it. They launched it under a cloud of confusion of invites, then never really did anything to explain things they improved upon launching. I guess I could work it out myself, but I have sort of lost interest.

It doesn't annoy me that it just sits there, and I will leave it for one day when I do want to use it. I can't work out what people are going on about saying it is in their face all the time.

oh, here is one thing I do use it for.. when the kids were born, I got them a gmail account so one day they aren't kid24322531 and with the Google+ android app, I take photos of them, and share stuff with them that they may like one day when they are old enough

Edited by kowcop, Jun 3 2012, 7:59pm :

No, Facebook will NOT "near certainly tank".

I'm highly confident Facebook is going to be around for a long time. It's all specualtion though.

Unless it can somehow differentiate itself more from Facebook and offer some incentive or benefit over Facebook I don't see G+ gaining an traction unfortunately. What can I do with G+ that I can't already do with Facebook, and everybody is already on Facebook...maybe if Facebook had a fee to be used and G+ was free but thats not the case so there is really no reason to use G+

Brian Miller said,
The total lack of hi-resolution privacy features really ****es me off.

Too much pixelation in your privacy settings?

It really has no purpose at all. It's just another social networking site trying to takes facebook's crown, and failing miserably at it. I don't know anyone who uses it so I deleted my account not long after creating it. It might be more popular among tech enthusiasts but not for the average joe. That's my opinion anyway.

As someone who does not have a facebook account and does have a Google+ account, I can share a couple of things. The biggest attraction to + for me was Hangouts, I've found social and business uses for it already. I assumed being linked to a Gmail account would just make it easy to find people when you want to get together, and largely that's the case.

The "explore" crap and everything else is annoying and confusing when I open the mobile app, I'd like to just go right to where I left off and remove this entirely. I don't know, maybe you can, but I haven't been interested enough to spend more time with it.

PUBLIC HANGOUTS. They should be pressing this and create hangouts with a wider capability in set some up in interesting places, it would take off. I'd love to "hangout" with cool people doing cool things. But instead, the "public" hangouts are laughable and already getting a "hangout nazi" in every one of them running things.

Google is preparing the Noah's Ark, trying to document every tiny bit of the human culture
Next it will be our DNA...

I'm tired of seeing the option to "upgrade" my Youtube account into a G+ account. What's the benefit?

Google+ does have an identity crisis of sorts. I too like the service but don't use it much because barely anyone else does. It's cool to discuss articles but that's what news sites are for. Other than that, there's barely and organic conversations and posts going on.

They also need to open up their API so more third party developers and apps can join up. If apps like Seesmic, TweetDeck, etc could access (read and write) their API, I'm sure you'll start seeing a little more posts from people (even if from the simple fact that their app now lets them post to G+ on top of Twitter and/or Facebook).

Currently there's no official Pinterest app for Windows Phone for instance, but there's a really nice third-party one. There isn't one for G+ though (official or third-party). Why? No open API.

Speaking of API's, Google has been doing a lot of stupid things lately such as alienating some of their largest Google Maps API customers by starting to charge for large number of queries.

I don't think people use because it's a pointless "me too" service. It does nothing Facebook cannot, so I think people are too impatient and lazy to use yet another social network.

I've had a G+ profile since it went public, but I haven't had a single family member or friend mention it, let alone use it. Hell, even the "Nearby" stream is all but dead most of the time. The only mentions are ads from local businesses.

I love the features of G+ but can't use them as hardly anyone uses the service. Even I gave up after there was no-one to talk to on there.

drazgoosh said,
I love the features of G+ but can't use them as hardly anyone uses the service. Even I gave up after there was no-one to talk to on there.

Exactly. Everyone uses Facebook, and as the article said, there's no reason to switch. It's simple logic/economics.

Staying on Facebook is easier, and there's no motivation to switch to something that none of their friends use.

I prefer Google+, and wish more people would use it. I have tons of people circled on there who share interesting content, I don't see what all the complaining is about.

For me the purpose is media sharing. Facebook is mainly sharing social activity and Twitter small news for the moment, often just linking to other news. Google+ is for me about photo, movies, videos, articles and discussing that. That's just for me because it happens to be so that the persons interested in those news that don't like Facebook's more social-oriented (babies, food, food, babies) posts and therefore ended up at Google+. I really like Google+ but there's not much activity right now and it's less for every week.

So because it is not like Facebook it is a failure? We live in a narrow ass minded country full of stupid people. Facebook is becoming full of junk and more complicated to use. It is starting to look like MySpace now. Google+ looks more clean and professional. It is a friendly welcome site for new beginners to the social circle. When all of the features are introduced, it will get better with time. If I wanted Google+ to be exactly like Facebook, I would have stayed with Facebook. People would be complaining that nothing stands out different about the site. You damned if you do, and you are damned if you don't. You can't please Facebook Zombies either way.

JSYOUNG571 said,
So because it is not like Facebook it is a failure? We live in a narrow ass minded country full of stupid people. Facebook is becoming full of junk and more complicated to use. It is starting to look like MySpace now. Google+ looks more clean and professional. It is a friendly welcome site for new beginners to the social circle. When all of the features are introduced, it will get better with time. If I wanted Google+ to be exactly like Facebook, I would have stayed with Facebook. People would be complaining that nothing stands out different about the site. You damned if you do, and you are damned if you don't. You can't please Facebook Zombies either way.

No. That's the exact opposite of what I said. It helps to read an article before you go on a tirade against what you think it said.

- "Google apparently hopes to redefine social media by doing the exact same things Facebook and Twitter do. It doesn't differentiate its experience; instead, it attempts to mash the features of Facebook and Twitter together haphazardly."
- "Google's stumbled in even in the most minor ways the service could differentiate itself from the most popular social network."
- "The one standout feature of Google+, Hangouts, is largely irrelevant because Google doesn't know what it wants its social network to be. "
- "Instead, it's essentially lock-step with its biggest rival."
- "This wouldn't be a problem if the network promoted openness as Twitter does, but it is a problem since the service still lacks even that basic definition."
- "If a new social network's going to take on Facebook and Twitter's dominance, it's going to need to be unique."
- "Right now, Google's not giving it much purpose. Throwing money at a problem will only do so much. To be successful, Google's going to have to do much more than that."
- "Google+ isn't a bad service. It just does nothing to differentiate itself from the competition."

FalseAgent said,
I think Google has lost sight of itself ever since they started making Android and Google+.

Android has been one it's greatest success 0.o

Martin5000 said,

Does it actually make any money?

It is profitable but no serious money yet, my point was Google was able to do in four years what other companies e.g. Microsoft have been trying to do for a decade.

thealexweb said,

It is profitable but no serious money yet, my point was Google was able to do in four years what other companies e.g. Microsoft have been trying to do for a decade.

Windows mobile was a fantastic mobile platform that was incredibly successful. That is the reason it took them so long to be successful on another form factor (touch). The way they got successful was literally killing an OS that had been a powerhouse for nearly a decade.

thealexweb said,

It is profitable but no serious money yet, my point was Google was able to do in four years what other companies e.g. Microsoft have been trying to do for a decade.

Yeah but they failed to do what Apple did; Make money. Isn't there some strange fact about how microsoft makes more money from android than google do because of licensing?

I think they'll have to start charging for it soon, and that will change the game dramatically.

thealexweb said,

It is profitable but no serious money yet, my point was Google was able to do in four years what other companies e.g. Microsoft have been trying to do for a decade.

It's also worth mentioning that the only success story with Android is the kindle fire... Which provides zero to google.

Martin5000 said,

Does it actually make any money?

You mean like how Microsoft pours money fruitlessly into WP and Bing? lol

And how do you know Google does not make money from Android? I hope you are not going off the random number The Guardian compiled after sifting through litigation data because thats not exactly a credible figure.

Martin5000 said,

Yeah but they failed to do what Apple did; Make money. Isn't there some strange fact about how microsoft makes more money from android than google do because of licensing?

I think they'll have to start charging for it soon, and that will change the game dramatically.

Google has bought thousands of patents from IBM and will soon have Motorola's but you don't see Google itself trying to squeeze money out of it's competitors by being a patent troll. Microsoft has failed to connect with the consumer so patent trolling is all they can do till WP gains traction.

Sonne said,

And how do you know Google does not make money from Android? ...

I asked a question, but somehow you've interpreted it as a statement of fact and managed to get worked up about it.

thealexweb said,

Google has bought thousands of patents from IBM and will soon have Motorola's but you don't see Google itself trying to squeeze money out of it's competitors by being a patent troll. Microsoft has failed to connect with the consumer so patent trolling is all they can do till WP gains traction.

I only wonder if Google actually makes any money, regardless of the rights and wrongs.

It's amazing how people are so touchy about mobile phone operating systems! (looking at all the comments here, and generally on this website)

Martin5000 said,

I only wonder if Google actually makes any money, regardless of the rights and wrongs.

It's amazing how people are so touchy about mobile phone operating systems! (looking at all the comments here, and generally on this website)

I know it's awesome / hilarious isn't it, someome makes a rude comment about someone's phone and we're locked in a never ending cycle of banter forever.

G+ has no use whatsoever for me, but Google are really ****ing me off by shoving it down my throat at every turn. I hate the way its changed thing like picasa and even gmail to integrate features that are inferior to their previous products. I also hate that you can't turn them off.

I have even deleted my G+ profile in a (futile) attempt to rid myself of the blight.

Surely the geniuses at google realise that forcing something on an unwilling public is never going to end well?

dvb2000 said,
G+ has no use whatsoever for me, but Google are really ****ing me off by shoving it down my throat at every turn. I hate the way its changed thing like picasa and even gmail to integrate features that are inferior to their previous products. I also hate that you can't turn them off.

I have even deleted my G+ profile in a (futile) attempt to rid myself of the blight.

Surely the geniuses at google realise that forcing something on an unwilling public is never going to end well?

Shoving a new idea down peoples throats apparently worked for them with Google Chrome, so why wouldn't they do it with G+

Here is the purpose: google wants information about people at any cost. so the first option is to acquire twitter or facebook which is not the case, but the second option is google plus which is a decent social media tool that google tries hardly to push to its users throat.

S3P€hR said,
Here is the purpose: google wants information about people at any cost. so the first option is to acquire twitter or facebook which is not the case, but the second option is google plus which is a decent social media tool that google tries hardly to push to its users throat.
I was always under the impression they sold data to companies... or it's a CIA front