// September 5th, 2011 // No Comments » // Uncategorized
You’ve no doubt noticed the noise surrounding Google’s latest attempt to get traction in the social space, Google+. As Google has done with many of its recent launches, it’s offered up Google+ initially as a Field Test, on an invite-only basis — which has the dual effect of allowing Google to tinker under the hood during the rollout period AND creating artificial scarcity (thereby ramping up user demand).
Of course, what Google calls a limited release might not fall within our own definition of “limited”: Google CEO Larry Page announced three weeks after the rollout of Google+ that the new service already had more than 10 million users, with over 1 billion items shared and received in a single day.
The challenge for Google – or indeed for anybody trying to stake a new claim in the social networking space – is to provide enough compelling features to lure users across from Facebook. So many people now have such a significant investment (both in terms of time and connections) sunk into Facebook that users’ natural inclination is to “wait until Facebook adds Feature X”.
Can it be done? Yes – after all, MySpace was once the undefeated champion of the social space, with so many millions of users that it seemed unassailable. Then along came Facebook. The rise and fall of MySpace is perhaps best demonstrated by its cash value: the company that owned MySpace was purchased in July 2005 for US$580 million by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation; MySpace was sold six years later for a reported US$35 million.
So Facebook’s dominance, although seemingly safe from competitive onslaught, may be less permanent than it seems; but is Google+ a worthy contender?
Too soon to say, of course, but if anyone can unseat the emperor, perhaps Google has the best shot. The Gplex is already integrated into our digital lives in a great many ways, and it’s a sure bet that if you have gmail or any sort of Google account, aspects of Google+ will begin to show up in your G-neighbourhood sooner rather than later, luring you across into the +playground …
From a marketing perspective, on the other hand, Google+ offers a mixed bag. Let’s look a little more deeply at some of the key components of Google+.
Circles represent the most prominent feature of Google+ … a sharply-differentiated attempt to tackle the issue of inappropriate sharing.
Circles require you to segment your contacts into different groups, enabling users to avoid sharing everything with everybody. In the real world we don’t share everything with all our friends in the same way. For instance, you probably share different things with your family, old school friends or your boss. Those clubbing photos that only a few should see? Now you can avoid parading them in front of your work colleagues (or your dear saintly grandmother).
From a marketing perspective Circles can limit the spread of information, for better or for worse. It may be more difficult to achieve viral momentum (since Google+ users will be segmenting their groups of friends, and probably not being as promiscuous in sharing their brand preferences and likes with all their groups); but on the other hand the sharing that does happen will be much more targeted, with the recipients of said sharing likely to be more receptive if they share similar values.
On the other hand, expect Google to launch (at the very least) Google AdWords for Google+, offering up context-sensitive advertising that’s informed not just by the words on a user’s page but also by the terabytes of data that Google knows about said user (all in the interests of providing better-targeted messages, of course, not privacy invasion).
One of the more intriguing aspects of Google+: Sparks, a search facility that uses the power of Google to find stuff of interest (and make it easy to share with your circles of friends).
So how does a humble communicator get his or her messages into the Spark feed? That will no doubt be a source of much debate and comment as the usual suspects attempt to game the system….
This offering takes on the Skype/Facebook combination: Hangouts enable real-time web video conferencing of up to ten friends. Business opportunities with Hangouts? How about context-sensitive advertising triggered by voice recognition software? Watch this space …
Then there’s a whole suite of mobile applications, including Google+ Huddle (think Twitter meets FourSquare) which encourages real-time sharing on the go.
Our conclusion on Google+? Much to like – but also potential for confusion with so much new terminology and functionality.
As Paul Adams (the Google ex-staffer primarily responsible for the insight behind Circles) noted in a recent blog: Google values technology, not social science. Whether that translates into a contagious social solution remains to be seen.