You’ll see a lot of talk about a second tech bubble a lot these days, and understandably so. We’re so prone to swooning over big moves on Internet, especially when it’s from one of the top players.
Remember Google Wave? I barely do – never really followed it, just recall the month or so of anticipatory hype. Then nothing. But if you look back at some of the press it got during it’s time, you’d think it was going to change everything. Of course it ended up not lasting long enough to really educate most folks on what it was supposed to be.
I’m not going to say Google+ is Google Wave redux, but the hype factor is quite similar, so I’ll choose to discount it’s coverage as an indicator of future success. Let’s remember, it’s Google. They could release a new web service centered around colon health, and it’d have 50 million users in it’s first week. I’m not surprised “Google’s take on Facebook” gets 10 million users it’s first week, especially when wrapped by a super-secret-limited-share release that only amps the interest.
Looking at the service itself and the environment it enters, it’s looking to take away from Facebook’s 750 million users. Facebook was clever how it found and fit a niche: making the act of sharing personal information fun, and reaping massive profits from it’s surrounding targeted advertising network. Of course, this is a sore spot for Google – that’s their racket too, only Google doesn’t make it as fun, and they’re a whole lot sneakier about it.
So why will an exodus of Facebook’s 750 million flock to Google+?
Minimalist Design: OK, this one actually draws users, but probably not the droves you’d expect. Geek chic loves pretty interfaces, fewer buttons, smooth transitions, and everything that feels new. If geek chic were a cultural group, Apple would be their religion, and Google Chrome would be the window they view the world through. It’s a strong, vibrant base in the computer user market.
It’s also a minority. Apple computers makes up about 11% of the market, and Chrome users are around the same. Problem is, Facebook became Facebook because you could find anyone on it, not just the guys you knew at the Coffee Shop or in Art class. Which leads into…
Users: If you want to beat Facebook, you better start sprouting users (and I don’t mean Google users, but Google+ users – look at Google Buzz to understand the difference). Yes, Google is ubiquitous and yes, it stands to benefit from nagging every user with your little icon at the top of every authenticated Google product user experience. But if you don’t have high school friends and fantasy football league buddies waiting on the other end of that icon, it ends up just another forum to broadcast what you ate for breakfast and hope it sparks a conversation.
Features: This one I don’t buy too much either. Circles are nice, granted. Frankly creating a “work” circle effectively is all I needed to completely replace my LinkedIn account (some manner to separate my drunken ravings from my professional drunken ravings). But, I’d argue features are too subjective and more vulnerable to competition and one-ups manship. One could argue Bing has fresher features than Google’s standard search, but that ain’t helping them much on market share.
The bottom line as far as I’m concerned is Google+ will not replace Facebook, but if it’s successful in the next 3 months, could stand to compete. Maybe it’ll live as a “geek’s choice” social network, just as its incomplete browser product serves the same base. But if it ever plans to take over Facebook and succeed in world domination, it’s too late to just do Facebook “but better.” Facebook did it at the exact right time. Google will have to do something different. Something that doesn’t feel like a smart guy’s take on an online property that’s thrived over the last several years. They’ve got the mental horsepower and resources to do it.
Otherwise, Google will have to go back to what it’s sublime at: filling niches that no one has dominated yet with clever solutions and harvesting massive amounts of behavioral user data for its advertising empire.