Google Plus Looks Good But Needs An Application Platform

By now you have likely heard that Google finally released its long-awaited social offering. First, let’s look at the basics:

  • +Circles – These are private lists, which are needed so that you can share things with a select group of people. Obviously, things you share with your family may not be things you want to share with your coworkers.
  • +Sparks – These are the required status updates, but they are more than that. It is a mixture of interest-based aggregation, sharing and discussion. This is much closer to what the Facebook news feed is like.
  • +Hangouts – These are live mult-person video chat, centered around your Circles. The idea is a casual meetup of friends.
  • +Mobile – This is a combination of different offerings,  +Instant Upload and +Huddle. Instant Upload gives you the ability to automatically upload photos taken with your mobile phone. Huddle is a new mobile group messaging app that looks like it uses the Circles as well.

Unsurprisingly, Google Plus has been greeted with plenty of bad reviews especially when people were expecting something hugely different from Facebook or something to kill Facebook immediately. However, there have been several solid reviews as well. Louis Gray has already show his interest:

With today’s launch of Google Plus (nee Google+), you can see they haven’t taken the role of backup lightly – delivering a fun and engaging place that brings many of the benefits of existing social sites, but learns from their mistakes. In time, the package of Google+ could be a serious alternative for people’s attention.

MG Siegler even gave it a thumbs up when he wrote “I have a strong desire to keep using Google+”. More often than not, I am seeing positive reviews of the Google Plus experience.

So, the big question is what does this release mean? Does Google Plus kill Facebook? No. First, killing Facebook will take years of user attrition, and there needs to be an excellent reason to switch from Facebook to Google Plus. Will Google Plus fail like Wave or struggle like Buzz? Initial reviews make it highly improbable for Google Plus to fail like Wave did. The comparison to Buzz’s struggles is a little more interesting. Buzz has struggled mainly because of the lack of a real hook. Aggregation of news or information is useful, but not by itself. Sparks gives you more than Buzz ever could, so at the minimum, Sparks has a bigger hook.

Will Google Plus fail like every other Google social offering? Thankfully, no. Once I get access I will have more information, but Circles and Sparks look like very interesting products by themselves. Facebook has made lists difficult to use and Google has the right idea with Circles. Ideas and implementation are different, but there does seem to be a lot of good feedback so far. Sparks could be very interesting due to its interest-based implementation. As I mentioned above, aggregation is not useful by itself. In the case of Sparks, Google is taking on some of the topic-based news sites, but shoving the functionality into their social network. Think of it from the perspective of Facebook. If Facebook had real topic-based news aggregation and the ability to share these items with select lists of people, you would likely spend a lot more time using Facebook than you do now. I am not saying that Google is killing Facebook, but this integration is a fantastic idea if implemented well.

I have written about the previously rumored Google Me project and the initial launch of Google +1. In one of my posts regarding Google Me I listed a bunch of possible features:

  • Messaging provided by GMail
  • IM provided by Google Talk
  • Google Buzz integrated with the basic status updates on the network
  • Orkut, new and improved with social circles provides the core social network features and a platform to build upon
  • Google Docs integration so that you can share documents with specific social circles
  • Picasa integration so that you can share pictures with specific social circles
  • Wave integration so that a specific social circle can have real-time collaboration features.
  • Latitude integration in order to share location information with specific social circles

Thankfully, GMail is currently outside of the social offering, but some sort of messaging will probably be included at some point. Instant Messaging integration was surprisingly missing, but it could be due to the lack of any sort of messaging which could point towards a much larger initiative to provide Wave-like messaging, a mixture of IM and email. As previously stated, Sparks takes the position of Buzz integration. Orkut is a big omission at this point, but I would suspect that there will be a migration path from Orkut to Google Plus (and Circles in particular). With Circles, you can see how Google Docs integration will be fairly simple, and the same can be said for Picasa integration as well. Mobile is a big feature of Google Plus, but collaboration is missing in a big way. As I mentioned, IM and email are missing but so is any sort of collaboration tool. In my previous post about Google Me, I mentioned the integration of Wave. Thankfully, Wave itself is not integrated, but I would have expected some of the collaborative features of Wave. This also points to the possibility of another large update to Google Plus if messaging and collaboration get included.

In my Google +1 post I expanded upon this list of features as well. Integration of Google profiles was an obvious decision, and the profile updates do look much nicer already. Another huge win for Google Plus is the basic concept of consistency. Making everything live under the Plus product and having +1 buttons everywhere gives the feeling of a unified product, even if everything really is separate. This consistency will also aid in user adoption.

With all of this what is missing from Google Plus? I have mentioned messaging and collaboration already, but one big thing that is missing is an application platform. One of the reasons for Facebook’s success is the application platform. Many users get hooked on games like Farmville, and that is not possible without the platform. Having an application platform will be a huge benefit to Google, and I am sure we will see one before the end of the year. Google can even provide hooks into Google App Engine in order to get existing developers to create applications for the platform.

Overall, there is a lot of interesting features in Google’s social offering and you can see how they can add more. It is definitely a solid initial release but there is still a lot of work to be done.


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6 thoughts on “Google Plus Looks Good But Needs An Application Platform

  1. It seems like you are distracted by comparing Google _Plus_ to Facebook when you probably should be comparing the totality of Google services to those of facebook. Google Plus really seems to be simply connective tissue that ties together many existing Google services.

    Google has had several different “application platforms” available for many years. Many of Google services have open APIs for developer access. The service that is most similar to Facebook’s is probably Google Gadgets, which are their web-based widgets that can be used on iGoogle home pages. It’s true that they haven’t released public APIs specifically for the social-networking additions that have been added in Google plus (such as an API to access information on Circles), but for a long time you have been able to write a widget that hooks into your Google contact list in order to invite and/or interact with other Google users who have installed the same Gadget (such as for multiplayer games such as Scrabble).

    I expect Google probably will release a Google Plus API (perhaps even an SDK) that makes it easy to write the sort of apps that depend on the social networking features, but as far as I know there’s nothing stopping you from writing a Google Gadgets version of “farmville” right now.


    1. Joshua

      I tried to avoid direct comparisons to Facebook, and focus more on the social network itself. Given that only specific services were included in GooglePlus, I could not look at all of Google in terms of the network. Gadgets are a good example of something I wanted to avoid because we don’t know if that is the way apps will be built into Google Plus (and I hope they aren’t). The reason I brought up the app platform is that without one, all of the functionality must be built by Google and the platform is one of the main reasons for Facebook’s success. I have no doubts that a platform and a set of APIs will be available at some point, I just hope it is sooner rather than later.


  2. I completely disagree.

    Facebook apps are the trailer park of the Internet. One of the best features of Google+ is that I don’t have to see your stupid farm and some obnoxious quiz game isn’t trying to secretly sell my info.


  3. Goggle plus will not take over Facebook, Facebook will notstop the rise of Google plus. The market will support both products just fine. The key for Facebook is to adapt there product with the best features of Google plus. People will leave Facebook just because 1 it is a new product, 2 the tech savy will take a second look because of the integration of Google products. Eventually what you will see is developers developing apps that will link Facebook and Google plus


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