Google is hoping that the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again” will work out for them with Google+.
Launched as a private beta version on Tuesday, Google+ is the search giant’s latest attempt at a version of Facebook. The company has tried this before with products such as Orkut, Google Wave and Buzz.
Google+ brings together four applications: “Photos” allows users to upload photos; “Hangouts” is a videoconferencing type application; “Sparks” provides a news feed; and “Circles”, which is the bit that allows “Googlers” to organise friends into different groups and share things with them.
The problem Facebook poses for Google is real. Both the current and former Google CEOs, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt have admitted they didn’t take the threat of Facebook seriously. Facebook users are already looking at more pages on the web than Google users (including YouTube) and spending longer doing it.
Advertising money will follow the users – and given this is Google’s main source of income – this poses a significant threat to its bottom line.
So why will Google+ never be a threat to Facebook?
1) The name. Google has always been tarred with the brush that it is run by engineers who by-and-large are not the world’s experts when it comes to social interactions. Proof of this comes in the choice of a technical-sounding name for a social service.
Why make a social site you want teenagers to hang out on sound like a computer language?
2) What if you threw a party and nobody came? Social networks, by definition, only succeed if there is a network of people to be social with.
Google will face a significant challenge in building up enough users on Google+ to allow for individual social networks to form. A typical teenager may have 700 friends on Facebook that has taken years to build up.
Unless Facebook decides to allow users to export all of their friends to Google+, rebuilding this network on a new site would be a task very few people would be willing to do.
3) You are a business colleague, not a friend. One of Google+’s selling points is the ability to group people into different categories and share with that group. Facebook allows this but it isn’t the main way of communicating with friends.
Although this feature allows users to be selective about what they share with whom, it makes the system harder to use. People don’t fit into neat categories; work colleagues can be friends too.
What people are interested in is not determined just by the fact they are a friend, work colleague, member of a club, etc.
4) I like it here. If people are unwilling to have multiple similar social network environments, the reasons for moving would be that you are either unhappy about Facebook or that Google+ offers you something Facebook doesn’t.
From the announced features, Google has not discovered the killer app in this space – there is nothing compelling enough to make someone move, along with the 700 friends they might have on Facebook.
It is also clear that Facebook is not going to sit by and watch Google+ take its market – any radically popular features introduced in Google+ would find their way into Facebook.
5) Here today, gone tomorrow. Google has a history of introducing and then killing apps that aren’t working out for them. The company recently announced that Google Health and Google PowerMeter are being discontinued.
Google Wave was killed off only a few months after its public launch. Given this history, people are going to worry that the same fate awaits Google+ if it doesn’t prove as popular as Google hoped.
6) The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Google+ is a collection of what are essentially four separate applications. Facebook is a single application. Putting a launchpad interface on separate applications doesn’t bring cohesion to the separate parts.
This is where Google still doesn’t understand that just because applications involve a social interaction, this doesn’t make them all equally relevant in social networks.
7) I’ve already said too much. Google is already regarded with suspicion when it comes to how much information they gather about their users and the uses they put that information to. There will be a general reluctance to share even more personal information with Google.
Admittedly, Facebook faces a similar perception, but the range of things people rely on with Google is different.
8) Who will tend the farm? Another feature of Facebook that Google+ won’t have is social games. FarmVille on Facebook has 38 million active users creating and tending for virtual farms.
Social gaming is another reason Facebook is so popular. It does not appear that playing games is a Google+ feature.
9) There is an app for that. Other than Facebook already doing what Circles does, videoconferencing is already covered by Skype and other applications, as are photo uploading and news feeds.
10) Google+, the movie. It’s never going to happen.
Also published in The Conversation