Unless you've been living under a rock for the last week, you have likely heard all about Google's latest step into social networking, Google+. I received my invitation to test the Beta version last week and have spent some time with the platform. For Uphoff On Media readers who haven't yet received an invitation please send us your gmail address, via the comment feature, and we'd be happy to send you one.
It’s easy to dismiss the continual “new, new thing” hype-cycle that comes out of the Silicon Valley. But I think Google+ is worth paying attention to.
- Hasn't Google Failed in Social Media Before? Well yes. By most every measure Google's steps in social media; see Okurt and Buzz as examples, have been failures. And there is certainly no guarantee that Google+ will be successful. From a standing start, looking up at Facebook's 750 million active users is daunting. Google has a huge and powerful base of Google Search, Gmail and Google Doc users to build on though. This doesn't take Droid phone users into account either. Different than other Google attempts at social media, Google+ serves as a natural platform for other Google services and applications like mail and docs. They have also integrated chat, YouTube and video chat, via a feature called "Hangouts". (Have to say though, Newt Gingrich hosting the first political "Hangout" on Google+ was a buzz kill. But I digress...).The result is a dashboard like platform where users can smoothly move back and forth between search, mail, document management, chat and social networking. Oh yea, they can also optimize this experience through their own browser called Chrome too.
- Does the World Really Need Another Social Network? Depends on who you ask. It also depends on what you mean by "social network". Given the extraordinary rise of Facebook and the relative cost of switching to another social network you would think that launching a competitive network would be foolish. On the other hand Facebook really has no direct competition and the level of world wide adoption of social networking would suggest that the market will support competitive offerings. When Google was launched in 1999, there were 14 other search engines, several with huge traffic and consolidation of the market had already started. Google is not a company intimidated by competition or what might seem to others as insurmountable barriers to entry. I also don't think they view Google+ as a social network. Their ambition is much larger. They see Google+ as the platform for search, social, email, video, document management and voice. A new operating system if you will, where social networking is simply a feature not a stand alone product.
- Will Google+ Be a Traffic Driver? We have seen a clear shift from Search to Social. This shift has effected web behavior and traffic and make no mistake about it, the folks at Google have noticed. Anyone seen Eric Schmidt around lately? The days of SEO and SEM being the only major drivers of building web traffic are waning and social media and applications are starting to surpass them. Before my SEO pals get all energized here, let me be clear...The need to assure that your content is discoverable via Search isn't going away. There is a new and powerful player in building web audience however and its Social. Arguably, Google+ provides the best of both worlds. Content that is posted via Google+ and content that is posted on the open web will be discoverable by search and social. Stay tuned however, Mark Zuckerberg and his pals at Facebook have been looking at this issue as well and what have been viewed as private posts on Facebook are increasingly accessible to the open web via search engines.
- Is Google+ an Over-Reaction to Facebook? No. Google+ represents a significant pivot by a large company that realizes there has been a profound market transition and they need to make a move to continue to be a dominant player. My sense is that while Google is watching Facebook very carefully, as FB represents a significant threat to their core advertising business, their ambitions are far larger. Given the integration of Mail, Document Mgt, Messaging, Video and Voice into a dashboard like experience; Google is taking the next step in their enterprise ambitions. Is Google+ a Trojan Horse for the enterprise market? You could make that argument. If I were Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce.com, IBM and Jive Software I'd be paying close attention. And knowing these companies, I can assure you they are.
- Who Wins in the Platform Battle Between, Google, Facebook and Others? Simply put, we all do. Markets always benefit by strong competition. We have already seen Facebook make several announcements, including the integration of Skype, in obvious and appropriate reaction to Google+. Apple, once a close partner to Google, dropped Eric Schmidt from the board and threatened a series of lawsuits around the launch of the Nexus 1 and Droid phones. The competition in wireless phones between Google and Apple has stimulated innovation in iPhone and Android OS phones alike. And the beneficiaries are the users. As Google and Facebook overtly push into the business marketplace we will see a new range of competitors take steps as well. The level of innovation we've seen in enterprise technology over the last 2 years; Enterprise 2.0 if you will, has exceeded the previous 10 years. I think the impact of nimble and innovative companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, who have traditionally been considered consumer technology companies, has been a major reason why.