A few months ago Google’s nascent social effort Google+ was derided by the American digerati as a “virtual ghost town” compared to Facebook. A fair amount of people (90m) were already registered as Google+ users, but few were apparently practically using it. (Now 170m+ people are on Google+.)
I think Google is secretly happy about being underestimated. This kind of down talk takes the pressure off and increases the focus on Facebook in the year of its initial public offering. It’s clear Google+ is truly a long term effort for the company and not just another social experiment looking for a quick win. In my view they’ve learnt their lessons with the ill-fated Wave and then Buzz.
This time around Google is integrating social into everything they do. They’ve simply created a front-end for this enterprise-wide socialising and called it Google+.
The actual product is fabulous. All the tools work well, especially high-end video-linking and the categorisation of people with whom to associate. Facebook is still behind on this level. As it started out as an open social platform, their introduction of listing and categorising “friends” seems clunky compared to the more modern and easy-to-use Google+.
A month ago, at the beginning of April, Google+ introduced far-ranging improvements, hardly noticed by digital bloggers as it happened to coincide with Facebook’s $1b acquisition of Instagram. This is a pity, I reckon, because Google+ has now shown that it’s able to release a steady stream of incremental improvements that enhances this social experience continuously.
Take Creative Kit, its photo features tool. It’s miles ahead of other photo filtering, retouching and modification services. Oh, and by the way, Facebook does not yet even offer any photo enhancing features (one reason for its purchase of Instagram). I’ve been using Google+ to enhance photos, only to also copy and paste them to Facebook. (I know there are other ways to enhance photos, but it’s fun to use my two social personalities in this way. And it’s really easy.)
Video expertise (via YouTube, owned by Google) is also a remarkable advantage of Google+. Facebook is notoriously bad at handling video, while Google+ is excellent. Anyone can upload, share and experience video seamlessly via Google+. It’s so good, one only realises after a while how much video you are exposed to on Google+, compared to Facebook.
For business it’s crucial to have a professional presence as a Google+ Page, if only to share and disseminate brand content. Google has made it clear that its search functionality incorporates Google+. I’ve thus noticed over the last year that content shared on Google+ tends to score higher in search results than content outside of the Googlesphere.
My main reason for loving Google+ is, however, content-related. Somehow and highly subjectively I hasten to add, it seems to me as if… gasp… the content posted on Google+ profiles is better than on Facebook. It may have something to do with the kind of people who migrated to Google+ quickly. Technology and media luminaries who are on Google+ share more interesting and more thought-provoking content via Google+, I find. On the other hand, perhaps it’s because it’s a less cluttered social place that the best content rises easier to the top.
Practically, if you already have a Google account for Gmail or Apps or any other Google service, you’re already plugged into Google+ and can integrate it easily.
The Sony Betamax vs VHS video cassette tape case study haunts me a bit though, I have to confess. Betamax was a far superior product to VHS, but Sony failed to market it well enough (as well as not licencing it for production by others). VHS did and was thus adopted by more manufacturers.
I have no doubt that Google+ is a far better social service than Facebook. But the masses are already using Facebook extensively (901m at last count), it has an advertising business model that seems robust and it boasts rock-solid brand recognition.
So this time around the better product may again, as with Betamax, be destined an also-ran. But not for me. I still have that old Betamax in a cupboard somewhere safe.