Why Google+ has already failed

It's now a week or so since Google launched their new social networking product, Google+, so here are some early thoughts.

I wanted this to be a Facebook killer, for obvious reasons (Blimey, that blog post is four years old!). There was a glimmer of hope shortly after Google+ launched that it might even meet these high expectations - the essential early adopter geeks were arriving en masse, and reporting that it was a great user experience. And sure enough, adding people to 'circles' - creating groups to target your messages - is pretty compelling.

But then what? Unfortunately, first time user experience isn't a good reflection of how well it'll fit into your existing daily activity. This is where Twitter in particular has been so successful - you can dip in as frequently or rarely as you like, wherever you are (especially in a mobile environment, where you might just want to kill a few minutes).

But there are some fundamental shortcomings with the new Google+ product. I should say that, being a Twitter advocate, I consider the lack of features to be a strength. And to be fair the user interface is pretty and functional. But put simply, "the same, but better" isn't going to be enough to bring a critical mass of users over to a new platform - or especially away from existing ones. It worked for Twitter and Facebook because they were sufficiently novel. For Google+, a high enough percentage of new users needs to arrive at the same time to have a chance of success. This is one area where beta testing will not work. By limiting the initial roll-out in the way that they did, and by not having a strong enough mobile story from the get go, I think they've lost the opportunity to launch a winning platform.

Yes, I know there's an Android app. But there's no iPhone app, and the web app doesn't cut it. Say what you like about closed platforms - this will seriously hamper adoption. And there isn't a public API either, which means no desktop apps, making it difficult to integrate Google+ into my working day. I basically have to remember to keep going to the website. The far more attractive alternative is that I keep using my desktop Twitter app and iPhone twitter app, both of which critically already contain the friends and colleagues I care about.

Of course the API and native iPhone app will come, but that's too little too late. The chance has gone for me and, I suspect, for many others. And I can't help but notice that none of the people I'm connected to on Facebook that I'm not connected to on Twitter have joined. And why would they?

I'm sure Google will continue to invest in Google+, just as they seem to continue supporting Buzz (no idea why!). But it'll take more than group video chat and some interesting Feedback tools to persuade people back en masse. Even the commendable 'liberate data' feature won't be enough.

Some bonus links:

Comments

PhilHawksworth said…
Wow. Give it a chance!

It had has been in the wild for a week. One week! Facebook and Twitter grew significantly more gradually and certainly didn't have such a rich and functional offering after 1 week of being launched. Launching this kind of product on this kind of scale is a massive task and I think they deserve a little more credit.

I'm yet to be convinced by Google+, but I think it's a bit early to write it off as a failure. No it doesn't have an iPhone app yet (although Google has built one, and is waiting on Apple to give it the ok in the app store). The Android app is, by all accounts, excellent, and I for one thing that the mobile web app is actually rather well done, so stating that they don't have a mobile offering is, a bit harsh.

I'm finding that it gives value to the feature that I wrote off a while ago which is Google's +1 button, and given that Google are so much closer to how I experience the Web than Facebook, I think that the number of integration points that matter to me will gradually grow and grow. I'm seeing signs of excellent integration with lots of Google web products too, which are a big tick for me compared to Facebook's walled garden. Fingers crossed that it opens up to other developers soon.

Developer APIs? Yep, bring 'em on, and the sooner the better. But even without them, there is a critical success factor for me: the same reason that I was happy to use GMail for my email and contact management, data liberation. I think that Google are on the right track by making this incredibly obvious and available to users. They have made this an issue for over a decade.

Is it perfect? No. Will it improve? I suspect so. I'd prefer to wait until more users are on it and we see some of the emergent behaviours on what seems to be an elegant and robust platform before I decide whether it is a failure or not.
Phil Whitehouse said…
Yes, but my point is that Twitter and Facebook launched in an environment which…well…didn't have Twitter and Facebook in them. The conditions for success are far, far more onerous now.

Small innovative web apps can grow slowly, improving as time goes by. But when Google launches a direct competitor to Twitter and Facebook, which depends so heavily on the social graph, special conditions need to be met to succeed. It's like a space rocket that needs sufficient momentum to escape the Earth's pull - conditions needed to be perfect at launch to have any chance at all.

If they'd given everyone instant access rather than this daft invitation scheme, and made sure the mobile / desktop experience was as good as possible for everyone, they might've stood a chance.

That's not to discredit Google on doing a difficult job well. The user experience is very good, but the point I'm trying to make is that a good user experience alone isn't enough - they needed to get their launch strategy right as well. I know it's early to call it a failure, but that's the way I see it right now. I guess time will tell.
DE said…
i'm with Phil on this one :-)

personally im quite happy for my Facebook only friends.. to stay on facebook. For actual regular use, i don't want a stream of cat / baby / wedding pictures. So a filter platform with no cow clickers is fine. I'll use it much like i would have used wave; for longer running conversations. And of course you can edit your own content too.