Google+ – Innovation Lost?

Google+ Google+ {#GP },  so far, has been a great successor to the Google Buzz platform. [There is a “BUT!” in that sentence, but FIRST lets talk about the positives!] Google+ is an evolved way of connecting and collaborating in your social graph. It has a clean intuitive interface, with some exceptional ideas around organizing a person’s connections to other people and, once connected, a couple innovative ways to collaborate with your grouped connections. Based on those features, as a software system, so far, Google+ has three positive reinforcements.

The question I want to pose to you all, as of 7/5/2011, is Google+ really a Social Network? Is it a Social Network that can compete with well-established ones such as Facebook, Twitter, and others? {Keep reading, objections and suggestions are to come…}

After a couple weeks, since Google Plus’s inception, consumers have had the chance to read about Google+’s focused beta from the perceptions of journalists and technologists. Most\All of their observations have been positive praising the new system as the “The Next Generation of Social Networking.” For lack of a better phrase, “What the heck are these people talking about?!”

Google+ lets you do four things:

One, create “Circles” or “Group Contacts together” to organize people. People can be in multiple Circles at once.

Two, Google+ allows people to post short/long immersive narratives, or posts, including pictures, links, videos, your location, and giving people the ability to filter who sees your post using your previously grouped contacts or circles.

Three, Google+ allows people to collaborate with “Circles”, or grouped contacts, using their HangOut feature which is a 10 person group video chat that uses an external browser plugin.

Four, Google+ gives you the ability to retrieve a constant, incremental, feed of information on subjects you are interested called “Sparks.”

The User Interface (UI) for Google+ is very clean, like its predecessor Google Buzz, using some new HTML5 UI techniques.

The first two features are VERY simple, and have been done 100’s of times before in 100’s, if not 1000’s, of other software systems. How does this make Google+ a revolutionary NEW Social Network?

It doesn’t!

Google+ uses Buzz/Twitter like features for posting updates At linked Contacts or mentions (@Someone), links, pictures, and videos. It organizes “Friends” or “Contacts” into a metaphor called “Circles”, which is similar to Facebook’s “Lists”, but with a cleaner User Interface. Their “Sparks” feature is similar to their Real-time feed on their Google Search platform focused around a static set of subjects you can choose and share as posts.  Google is allowing posts on their Plus system to resemble closely to Blog posts that are only containing one link/URL, one photo, and an out-of-band set of pictures attached to the post. Sure, Google is combing features nicely, but what about this system makes you, or anyone, want to use it over the others?

Where are the awesome features that abstract the complexities of social graphs, interactions, and collaboration? Where are the relationships of things, inferred or otherwise? Where are the amazing, almost artificial intelligence like, features that infer relationships, interests and ideas using Google’s massive set of data {metadata} they have collected over years of search? Google+, so far, is not revolutionary at all. It is a more of an organized contact\search system with post capability.

Let me compare Google+, and other social networks, to similar business based systems that have been around for a while. In years past, consumers, like you, have used Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM systems) where businesses can collaborate with customers, prospects or existing, in order to maintain a deep relationship with them. The basis of all CRM systems is “Lists of consumers grouped by relationships.”  Some CRM systems have extended functionality letting you collaborate with the same consumers, tracking these collaborations, inferring relationships, and adding intelligence systems that help automate processes.

A CRM system, as described above, is a more focused, more advanced, Social Network than any of the available consumer-public ones today. Google+ is far from being a true Social Network.

Listing contacts and organizing them is not a Social Network feature, it is a tedious task of trying to move existing contacts and social circles from one system to the next without importing or migration features. People already setup their “Social Network” on Facebook, why would they EVER want to do it again unless Google+ imported it? Google+ should find a way to pull contact information, whether it is from flat text files, email systems, or other social networks, and allow the user to easily organize these people. It could possibly even automatically deduced, implicit, relationships between you and these circles, between social circles, and even between social circles and subjects. Google+ could find a revolutionary way to sift through the noise of everyday news, posts, and chatter, in order to bring what is important and interesting closer to you.

Posts/Updates in Google+, so far, are just ways for people to either update their contacts on what they are doing, narrate to them on a subject, or just spew/share links and pictures to them. Why not add ways to create posting branches. Allow a user to start with a root post but allow followers, Circles, and/or contacts, to Branch off that post and relate to it in a different way. They could even add a way to unobtrusively solicit information from people by polling or asking questions. The interface for this type of thing could be organized and fluid, making it fun to play with, searchable, and easy to use. [This not only adds context to discussions/posts, but it also allows Google to use this data later on to better user’s experiences.]

A “Circle” doesn’t have ways to setup how circles are related, or how people in those circles are related. Possibly, include in Google+, what are the Circle’s interests and subjects to focus on. This could make Google+ more complex as a system, but would allow Google+ to surmise additional social graph data later on. The complexity could be abstracted away from the user, allowing the user to benefit from the complexity rather than hinder the usability.

Sparks is basically a feed of news, blog posts, and information for a static set of subjects allowing you to post links to it and make comments about it. It doesn’t, however, let you create links to your own interests [Digg] or subjects, relate your Circles to those interests, or poll or ask circles about the interests in order to “Spark” engaging conversations about them. To me, that is a better metaphor for “Spark” then static feeds of information. Google could even use this style of conversation to infer what is important to its users.

Where’s the API?! Where are the Applications? {Apps} Data Liberation is a light-up point for Google+ and other Google Services. This means allowing the user/consumer to export their data for use in other places. Where is the API to perform this operation? Twitter has a API which is a firehose of data, to anyone who is listening, that developers can use to integrate to their applications and systems without too much fo a performance hit on their system. Since google is all about “data liberation”, “free”, and “open source” it would be beneficial to do the same for Google+. Allow users to post to this “stream” where external systems and applications can make use out of it. Bringing users closers together. Even though Facebook does a terrible job around “Applications” it still adds to the experience of the “Social Network.” There is no need to mention “Farmville”, but it is proof that Applications, no matter how useless or nonproductive, can create a social graph not intended by the networks themselves.

Where is the Org or Group collaboration integration? Creating Events, Organization Pages, and Group Collaboration pages benefits a laundry list of consumers. It encapsulates another idea behind social networking called out-of-band collaboration. It allows individuals to move focus to an external entity and possibly bringing together more people. This goes back to inferring “in.terests” or “usefulness” that Google+ could do using these other pages. An example would be, if someone is interested in a convention that is about gadgets, and they also read tech blogs, the might want to follow Léo Laporte or Gina Trapani.

I can’t give away all my great ideas! This post may be long, but I have held back some of my best ideas in order to stay relevant. If you want more details or ideas, please feel free to contact me.

It’s all about simplifying our social graph and our conversations we have with it. A revolutionary Social Network would provide a way to sift and filter out the noise to bring what’s important to you, as a user, and give you an easy way to share your passions and interests with the people, and companies, that matter to you.

Until next time…