Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Google+ Killer Feature?

I thought I would share my initial thoughts on Google+ along with the rest of the web. If you don't know what it is, here's a introduction video created by Google:

I think the best way it's been described is this: "It's not Facebook, but shares many similar features to Facebook." This xkcd comic sums it up pretty nicely:

My first experience would agree with this. Google+ is like Facebook in that you can give an update, share photos, videos and chat with friends. Google+ does some of those things better too: video group chat looks awesome for example. It also has a couple features missing in Facebook: Sparks, which let you create your own stream of interesting content from the web (really nice right now since I don't have 100's of friends on Google+ yet). The UI also looks nice - a blend of Facebook and Friendfeed (which is now owned by Facebook).

So I've been using it for a day and like it, but that's probably because it's something new and shinny. Is it something that must be incorporated into my life? Not yet. I mean, the big thing missing is the critical mass of friends to make sharing worth while. Duh. If I have something I want to share, I'm going to go where my friends are at... and currently they're on Facebook. The only way most people are going to switch is if Google can offer them something better.

What is that something better? That killer feature?

One of the big features Google is touting is "Circles" - friends list with fancy animations. The idea is to make "creating friends lists" so easy that people will actually do it. I'm probably not a great person to talk about this because I actually maintain lists within Facebook and filter with them regularly. But, from what I hear, the "average" user doesn't do it. The benefit of having "Circles" is that you'll be able to selectively share with only people who you know will care (or on the flip side, NOT share with people who you don't want to know about your exploits).

So here's the rub for me: When I decide to publicly share something, I go everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Buzz (yeah, I'm THAT guy), and LinkedIn. I will also email it to people I know are not on any of those services (like my dad). If I want to selectively share something with a small group, I email it. Did you catch the subtly of the situation? "Circles" is actually competing against email - not Facebook. Email: no character limits, multimedia, BCC, CC, notification systems, on every device, checked regularly.

In the end, I'm going to use "Circles", but that's because I'm THAT guy who organizes everything (even my Google Contacts are sorted into groups). I think the default for most people will be to share publicly only.

Another potentially cool feature is the Group Chat. You can start up your camera and be available to chat - then others can join you at will. This, in theory, means you don't need to schedule out every single chat. I'm interested to see how well it performs with multiple people because all other options I've tried have horrible lags.

That's a couple of the highlights.

Here's my biggest question: What is Google+'s killer feature? What would make me want to come back and use the service? What is Google+ offering that no other social network is offering? How can Google incorporate all their other services to create something truly sticky?

One example I saw is with Google's +1 button: you can now filter you Google Analytics by +1 visitors. This gives site owners more data to make better site decisions. Every site owner should be excited about this! I'm still not sure what the value is to the visitor clicking the +1 button, but I'm willing to bet there will be a lot more +1's now. Perhaps the +1 buttons will be more tightly integrated with Google+ stream: For example, I +1 a page and friends can comment & +1 the page.... of course, which "Circle" does this get shared with?... oh boy, this got complicated fast...

Is it good enough for Google to merely mirror Facebook's features while marginally improving each part? Probably not. Facebook already has all my friends, and so I'll put up with a lot of Facebook shenanigans before moving on. Perhaps, they can co-exist like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, though it's unclear which group this would be for. Selective sharing? Again, email works pretty well. Google needs to clearly identify who would benefits from using their service.

Google claims this is just the first step of Google+. That over time they will be incorporating more and more of their products. Perhaps they'll be able to weave in enough of their products that it won't necessarily be one killer feature (like... being able to share on behalf of others... Or the ability to easily search past updates), but it's a whole system that has at least a little bit of value for everyone. Not just additional traffic for site owners, but stats, SEO recommendations (G+O?),  social adwords (+1's = credits and/or discounts; display friends who've like it within Adwords). For users, not just sharing into a huge stream - smart filtering, smart discovery, smart ads.

Google also needs to find a feature (or two) that can only be done on Google+: share gDocs, gCals, search results? Something with Youtube and Picasa is a must. Incorporating Reader to make sharing easy: see +1's and comments right in Reader.

Google+ could also become available to Google Apps users to create a Yammer-like service for organizations.

Knowing Google, all of these, plus more, have been thought of. Now it's a matter of engineering resources and paying attention to customer's demands. Google+ isn't perfect, but it stands a chance of becoming a big part of the web.


  1. This is the part where everyone says "Hey man, can you shoot my an invite?!"


    PS hey man, can you send me an invite?

  2. Ha ha. When my invite button comes back, you're first on the list.