Google+: will it reignite Google’s battle with Facebook?

The game is on (again): Google is seriously trying to take on Facebook by launching Google+,  its own social media network. The question rises whether Google will be successful in its latest attempt to beat Facebook on its own turf.

I started thinking about answering this question by reviewing Google’s previous (unsuccessful) attempts to overtake Facebook:

Attempt no. 1: Google Wave

Proposition: to offer an online communication and collaboration tool that makes real-time interactions more seamless, enabling users to communicate and collaborate around rich content in one place.

Assessment: despite an enthusiastic reception by the developer community and in the media, Google Wave never got the traction and user adoption needed to get closer to Facebook.

Lessons learned: build on some of Google’s technologies/features in a new social media product whilst offering a range of additional interaction oriented features that will make it a really compelling proposition.

Attempt no. 2: Google Buzz

Proposition: to offer a social networking and messaging tool that is integrated into Gmail, Google’s email client. Users can share links, photos, videos, status messages and comments organised in “conversations” and visible in the user’s inbox.

Assessment: since its launch last year Buzz has received a lot of criticism for violating its users’ privacy, with users running the risk of exposing all their email contacts to all of their followers. Also, potential adoption of Buzz is limited to Gmail users only (many of whom still tend to use Gmail purely as an email programme and don’t want to use it for anything else).

Lessons learned: provide (target) users with a clear incentive to buy into a new interactive feature and avoid any major disincentives such as users losing their privacy.

Taking the mixed success of both Wave and Buzz into account, is the future of Google+ looking more promising? “Yes” is my gut feeling and these are my reasons why:

  1. Google+ has some interesting new features – Take Circles for example, this feature enables users to select and organise contacts into specific, targeted groups. Another good one is Hangouts, which will enable users to drop in and out of video group conversations.
  2. Easy to use – I haven’t yet had a chance to properly ‘play’ with Google+ but the toolbar (which includes a drop-down showing the user their relevant Google+ activity) is a good start. Also, creating new ‘circles’ and adding new people to them seems pretty intuitive.
  3. The opportunity is there – Google+ looks like its off to a good start. To really capitalise on this, it will need to quickly venture into Android apps, add more compelling features and integrate fully with existing social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Main learning point: although I do feel that with Google+, the search giant will at least have a better chance of getting anywhere near Facebook. However, I guess the main problem with Google+ is that it doesn’t really offer anything that will keep Mark Zuckerberg & Co lying awake at night. Even though functionality like Circles and Hangouts is cool and adds clear value to the user, it isn’t anything that Facebook can’t easily replicate or venture into.

I would be surprised if Google eventually succeeds in positioning itself as a credible and hugely successful social network, it simply doesn’t have the ‘first mover advantage’ that Facebook has had up till now. If anything, with Google+ it has given itself the best thinkable chance to beat Facebook, so I will be keeping a close eye on this battle …

Related links for further learning:

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