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Google+: Not Falling Flat on its Face

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Yes. As many people have observed and commented, Google+ lacks a solid differentiator that can drive people away from Facebook. The circles concept – although new – isn’t strong enough to make people abandon Facebook in favour of Google+. However, seeing the past few weeks’ trends, Google+ members are actively using the product.

Remember the time when Google Wave launched with an invite-based registration? The demand for invites was so much as to create a market for them on eBay, with invites selling for sky-high prices. After the crowd had joined in, though, everything fizzled out. People couldn’t understand how the product worked, or rather how they could make it work. The hype around Google+ is in many ways similar to that that was around Google Wave. The results, however, should be different this time.

First, we must not suppose that Google+’s immediate motive is to drive people away from Facebook. Rather, Google wants people to adopt their platform and stick around for a while. Facebook can be dealt with a little later. With such a perception, we can get a clearer understanding of why Google+ is not going to be as big a catastrophe as many are predicting it may be.

A big difference between Google Wave/Buzz and Google+ is that this time, people do understand how Google+ works. They are familiar with the platform. In my opinion, Google’s lazy copy-pasting from Facebook wasn’t a dumb move. It was a smart one. Had they designed a radically new interface just to be different from the Big-F, they might have been faced with a Wave-like scenario again. On parallel lines, Microsoft has been repetitively accused of copying the Macintosh’s interface into its Windows operating system. (Remember when New York Times’ David Pogue released a funny video laced with sarcasm that explained why Windows Vista did not steal ideas from Mac OS X?). Yet, people have readily embraced Windows, which is currently the market-leader in desktop operating systems. So, people have a basic idea of the surroundings and are not going to whine about the product’s usability.  However, a familiar environment is not exactly an indicator of an application’s sustainability. Why, then are those people going to stick around and actually use Google+ for more than say, two weeks?

“Stagnation?”, you ask? “People need Change?”, you ask? “Is that all you could come up with?”, you ask? “Yes”, I reply. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that Google+ will take the baton from an aging Facebook and run away miles ahead. Making such a prediction at this stage would be taking a shot in the dark. Judging by people’s Google+ posts, however, I can say that many members are actually finding the experience pleasant and that they are willing to stay. With one basic need satisfied (a familiar environment) another factor kicks in: a sparser and more comfortable community. Right now, most members of Google+ are apparently below 35. They’ve landed up there though invites from their actual friends. Not some distant-college-guy-they’ve-seen-twice-in-four-years or some-long-lost-uncle-who-lives-2000-miles-away-and-last-saw-you-when-you-were-a-baby. The current Google+ users are young and they’re away from their parents/uncles/aunts/grandparents. They’re in a comfy couch. In contrast, people on Facebook have so many friends they’re really not really friends with. They’re more acquaintances than friends (Yes; Circles let you differentiate between the two, but that point is not relevant at this nascent stage). In general, people have a stronger desire to share and express whenever they’re among familiar company as opposed to when they’re always on the podium, speaking out to a large, mostly unknown audience. At present, the Facebook community has a lesser sense of being closely-knit. Again, in general, people’s posts and comments get actively noticed more when those comments are posted in a relevant or in a smaller, more familiar world. A post by me will be certainly clicked-on, if not read, by people whom I regularly interact with. On Facebook, however, people currently just glance past their news-feeds. Most of the posts look like trash. They look like trash not because they are bad in quality, but because they have been posted in a lazy manner by people we don’t closely relate with. Most Facebook users would skip past a post about a unique method to brew a cup of coffee, if it is published as a broadcast (in the wild). If, however, it is published in a forum dedicated to coffee lovers, many more members would be curious-enough to read that post. An indicator of the prevalence of such a feeling is the success of smaller, more targeted social networks such as Ravelry – a community for knitters. So far, Google+ is in a stage where your public posts are not considered to be in the wild, since your audience consists of people you’re more familiar with. With that, we can establish that overcrowding on social networks may lead to stagnation. “But surely”, you may ask, “once the invite-based system ends, all the parents/grandparents/uncles/have-seen-your-face-once-befores are going to come flooding into my circles. What then?”. Well, that’s beside the point. By then, the sparser and more familiar community would have already sown the seeds of fixation to Google+. People would already have gotten into the zone by the time the oldies kick in. In my opinion, Google+ should delay its public-launch for a while and should continue with the invite-only system for longer. This will help maintain an aura of exclusivity for long enough to get people addicted to the product.

If Google+ maintains this position, we may soon see people maintaining two active profiles in parallel – one on Facebook and another on Google+. Of course, Google will have to come up with a differentiator to gain an edge in the long run. After a brief honeymoon period, Facebook will be a big threat. Possibly, we may also see a tennis match between both parties, where one will try to gain an upper hand by pulling a shinier rabbit out of its hat each time the other pulls out its own. A new and cool feature from Google+ that Facebook won’t be able to copy (patents, anyone?) may prove to be the latter’s coup de grâce. It is still early to predict whether Google+ will be able to gain a significant edge over Facebook once the former has run the distance; however, given the premise of sound strategy, it will certainly not pop out as soon as its critics are predicting that it will.

Written by parrymathur

July 11, 2011 at 1754

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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