Suw and I have been using Google Plus for the last day. The company’s latest effort to try to get social definitely learns a lot from it’s previous failed attempts to inject some social into its ever growing collection of services. More than learning from past failures such as Buzz and Wave, Google does something that it had to do, it started to knit together that sprawling collection.
Google was running the risk of pulling a Yahoo. With the rise of web 2.0, Yahoo not only developed its own services but also went on a shopping spree, buying up Flickr, Delicious and other services. One of Yahoo’s issues is that it has never been able to tie those services, as excellent as they are on their own, into any kind of meaningful coherent network or business plan. On one hand, it’s probably down to leftover 1990s portal thinking for Yahoo, and on the other hand, Yahoo spent a lot of time over the last decade pursuing Terry Semel’s dreams of becoming a major content player. (A strategy that AOL’s Tim Armstrong seems intent on giving another go, possibly with similar results.)
For a while, Google seemed to struggle with its quest for another growth driver apart from search advertising and Android. They seemed to launch and acquire service after service without much overarching strategy. The services seemed isolated and often poorly integrated. That has started to change with some very subtle navigation changes, but Google Plus really starts to knit them all together, including Gmail, GTalk or Picassa. It’s a good start, although I’m a little baffled why Google Reader is not integrated into Plus. I’d guess that is because Google Readers is a minority sport, but it seems like a logical addition, even if they had only added a tool that easily allows you to share from inside of Reader as you can already with Twitter, Facebook, Blogger and a range of other blogging platforms, bookmarking services and social networks.
They also seem to have learned some lessons about privacy from the Buzz debacle and also Facebook’s issues. Privacy controls are woven throughout Google Plus, and I think that’s a welcome addition to social tools. While folks who live in public like Jeff Jarvis believe that “social is for sharing, not hiding“, most people want to be able to exercise some choices with their online privacy.
As a journalist, I’m going to be keeping an eye on Sparks, which is a social content discovery system built into Plus. It’s not quite there, and it feels much more of a search product than the solid type of social recommendation service that I’ve come to love with services and apps such as Zite on the iPad. Sparks are supposed to be driven by Google’s +1 service, and maybe it’s an indication of a lack of uptake on that. At the moment, the recommendation is weak. Jeff Sonderman at Poynter has some excellent suggestions on how Google could improve Sparks. It’s well worth reading.
Google has dealt itself back into social and managed to start to integrate its offerings into a cohesive whole. Even if the social aspects weren’t all that compelling, bringing some order to what had seemed a bit of a haphazard collection of web services is crucial for Google’s ongoing success.
Some services I explore because I feel I have to. Others I start using because they offer me something. Google Plus definitely piqued my interest enough to take a proper tour and explore more in the past day. I like the ability to group people as I see them in my life and share things with the appropriate group. I’m sure my Mom won’t use Google Plus, but I’m not sure I agree with Scoble that this is early adopter only service. If you’re a Google or Android user, Google Plus makes a lot of sense. I’ve watched a lot of my friends in media and tech flood into Google Plus. It already feels quite a friendly, busy place. For Facebook diehards, those people for which Facebook is the internet, I doubt that Google Plus will have much pull. Google also is facing increasing anti-trust (anti-competition in the EU) scrutiny, and integrating its services will seem to its detractors as another attempt to seize new territory. Despite that, Google has shown that it can learn from its mistakes. It showed that it can do social, including some innovation in what is a very crowded space. It will be interested if the early adopters who flooded into Plus over the last 36 hours will stay around and what happens when the doors are opened to the wider public.