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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Opinion: Running In Circles (Why Google Plus Never Stood A Chance)

As Facebook began to replace MySpace as the preferred place for people to spam our walls with terrible music, get way too much information about people we do or don't know, and tag us in pictures of Jordan heels, many social media lovers flocked to Twitter for a more controllable experience. Seeing the value of owning a successful social media network, Google abandoned their failed attempt to mimic Twitter - Google Buzz - and re-entered the SM arena with Google Plus (G+) with the goal of capitalizing on the growing public frustration with Facebook.

With a look that nearly mirrors Facebook, and the ability to put people in "Circles" so that users can easily decide who sees what, internet addicts flocked to G+ with the hopes of "starting over". A few months later, it is an online ghost town. Despite having millions of subscribers, it simply seems that no one uses the platform for anything besides bashing Facebook and complaining that nobody ever uses G+. So what happened?

Aside from the sub-par mobile apps (or complete lack of apps for BlackBerry users), issues with Internet Explorer (no one's using Chrome), and the simple fact that people were not quite ready to move-on from Facebook, there is a more simple reason that G+ just never caught on. People use social media for instant attention and up-to-the-moment information, and Google Plus just doesn't deliver either. This all starts with the aforementioned Circles.

MySpace and Facebook had "Friends". In the friend system, people request to be your friend and you have the ability to approve or deny them. Simple. This leads to feelings being hurt sometimes, but it works. Twitter changed the game by allowing people to simply "Follow" people that they find interesting. This allowed celebrities to amass millions of followers with little to no effort (as they don't have to hire people to accept all of those requests) and makes following back optional. People wanting more privacy can setup private pages, which requires potential followers to pass approval. The elimination of the "friend" concept was a monumental change in the social media world.

The developers at Google decided to take it one step further with the Circles concept. Rather than have your information out for the world to see, G+ allows people to choose who they want to see their updates. Further, you can create various circles so that posts are only seen by those you want. Sounds nice and private, right? Right... and that's exactly the issue. Lets take a few examples, shall we?

A: I think you're cool, so I add you to my "Cool People" circle and let you see my updates. You don't know who the heck I am so you just skim over my updates. Where's my instant gratification? G+ fails because it lacks the ability to let people see into other people's lives; instead, it gives us the ability to push our lives (no matter how boring or mundane) onto others. But that's not how social media works.

B: Blake Griffin is awesome. I wanna see what he's talking about. But Blake is not going to find me on G+ and add me to a circle so that'll never happen. Thus, I'll just keep following him on Twitter. People who do interesting things don't (or at least shouldn't) spend time trying to find people to talk to. That's what fans do. In essense, G+ has the game backwards.

C: Terrible Rapper X adds me to his circle, and now I have to see his mess or block him. I hardly know this guy and I'm OK with that. Now I have to make a choice about him, and I'd rather be passive. So while my wall is safe, my timeline is hot garbage.

To summarize, Google Plus is perfect if you want a quiet, tame and occasional social media world. It's also a great way to keep in touch with pre-designated groups of friends. It has very little purpose to people looking to expand their networks and engage with dynamic personalities. Really, by focusing on creating a ratchet-less Facebook clone, Google succeeded in creating the first Anti-Social Media platform. Good job.


NOTE: This article is not meant to bash Google as a company. Most of their products (especially Blogger and GMail) work great for me. Holler.