Some Reasons to Be Optimistic About Google Plus

Here’s a dirty little secret: I thought Google Wave was going to be awesome. I admit this so that you can immediately discount everything I’m about to write if you like, but wait, hear me out!

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past 48 hours or so then you’ve heard about Google’s new “Facebook killer.” Because despite Google’s serious attempts to not brand themselves that way (“It’s a project, not a product! We’re not competing with Facebook!”), media article after media article has been using a term that makes me think we’re not talking about social networking at all but instead the upcoming season of Dexter. So yes, everyone knows that it’s meant to compete with Facebook. Because Google would be stupid not to want to compete with Facebook, which is perhaps the number one source of valuable user data they’re not getting.

Of course, we have reason to be wary. Because Google Wave was impenetrable and Google Buzz made Facebook’s privacy woes look amateur. And there’s a lot working against them in terms of adoption, because so many people are so firmly ensconced in Facebook that they’d have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. Years ago I remember thinking that Facebook would have difficulty sucking the user base out of Friendster, but that was nowhere near the scale we’re talking about now – Facebook is pretty much taking over the world. And of course the thing about an online social network is, it only works if your “real” social network is there. Plus if everyone moves over from Facebook to Google Plus, just think about all those dead crops!

Still, I am optimistic that this thing could actually work. Here’s why:

  • The reason I don’t use Facebook much is because every time I post something I have to think “Do I want my father to read this? My academic adviser? My boss? My friends? That guy I dated for two weeks in high school?” Yes, Facebook does provide ways to make posts selectively private, but it seems like this is exactly the problem that Circles is trying to solve.
  • As xkcd points out, on one hand you’ll never be able to convince your parents to switch. On the other hand, you’ll never be able to convince your parents to switch!
  • The adoption problems re: tearing people away from Facebook (and their crops!) may be mitigated in part by the ease of adding people via gmail. What’s one more Google product in our lives? Plus Google’s limited roll-out strategy seems to have been successful in the past at creating demand and buzz. I wonder if they considered buying MySpace at a low, low, discounted price to lure over the two people and some bands who are left there.
  • Given the huge shift in Facebook towards games like Farmville, as well as other apps, it’s possible that Google Plus can be more of a pure social network without all the noise. I see those two functions as very different things, and for those who like to play social games, there may be room for more than one site in their lives.
  • After the debacle with Buzz, Google is heavily motivated to take privacy very seriously. I am optimistic on this count, though on the other hand, I’ve heard some grumbling (unverified) that Plus makes gender a mandatory public field, and this is the kind of thing that causes problems. So we’ll see.
  • Hangouts is actually something new – more similar to Skype than Facebook. The spontaneous gathering idea is interesting, but what really appeals to me is the potential to support a social practice I already have – which is watching Netflix remotely with people. For friends who live far away, we queue up a movie (usually a bad one) and then chat in IM as we watch. When I saw someone tweeting yesterday about “hanging out” in Plus watching YouTube videos with friends, I got a glimmer of hope for this.

So will Google Plus (and by the way, “Google+” is such an awful name for the purposes of writing, I can’t even express) be the “Facebook Killer”? Doubtful. But there might still be something there, and maybe I’m just too sunshine-and-unicorns, but I’m excited to find out.

Are you optimistic about Google+? And if it came down to it, what would it take to tear you away from Facebook?

Comic credit: / CC BY-NC 2.5

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