I’ve been on Google+ now for three weeks, and I really like it.
Actually, I should rephrase that. I’ve been on Google+ now for three weeks, and I really want to like it.
I want to use it. I want other people to use it. I want it to be awesome. So far, though, it’s been mostly disappointing.
Like me, it seems like a lot of people just haven’t found a good use for it. Maybe because it doesn’t really fit in with the existing Facebook/Twitter ecosystem. Nothing about it feels natural or cohesive or intertwined with any of our other social networks. Of course, this is largely due to Google not publishing their API for third-parties to use, but I think it’s also because anything posted there seems so incredibly redundant.
Tech blogs are already starting to wonder if Google+ is on life support. I wouldn’t go that far yet, but clearly the clock is ticking. People are quickly losing interest, and the quieter the stream gets, the less incentive there is to come back. Just ask MySpace.
So what needs to happen for Google+ to succeed? Several things, I think.
First, Google needs to remove the invite-only restriction. Let anybody in. There are still people who want to use it but can’t get an invite. Don’t turn them away.
Second, give people a reason to actually use it once they’re on. Show us how it complements — not replaces — what we’re already doing. If you’re gonna name your product “+”, then show us how it’s actually adding something to our lives. So far, Google hasn’t done that. I’m following 43 people, and only two or three of those are still actively posting anything to it. Most have never posting anything at all except for their profile pic. That’s not a good sign. As someone tweeted recently, “Google+ feels like a house party that just ran out of alcohol. Everyone’s just standing around, waiting.”
Third, publish your API so that third-parties can integrate into it. When someone checks in through Gowalla or Foursquare, they should have the option of posting that check-in to Google+. When I post a public Google+ update, I should have the option of having it automatically tweeted (without having to use a third-party workaround). There needs to be a Facebook Connect-style Google login option on websites. Yes, a lot of this stuff tends to pollute the Facebook news feed, but it also adds value and content, which is sorely lacking at the moment.
Fourth, fix the circles. One of Google+’s big selling points was how easy it was to create various circles in order to post to different groups of people. We could post to just family members or to just people we’re following or to the whole world, whatever we felt like doing. But in practice, the circles feature is incredibly awkward. Imagine following 200 people and trying to segregate them out into 5 or 6 circles. The UI makes it extraordinarily cumbersome. I gave up trying to organize people into multiple circles, so everybody just goes into the same one. Besides, anything I post is public anyway, so it doesn’t even matter. Mark Zuckerberg has said before that people don’t like making lists. If the central core of your product involves people making lists (or circles or squares or trapezoids or any other polygon), then it better be really frickin’ easy to do, otherwise people won’t use it.
There are other things as well, such as making the stream chronological, adding people’s +1s to their stream, and being able to search content and follow trends. Things we’re already used to seeing in Facebook and Twitter.
Most of these things are likely in the pipeline, but I have to wonder if it’ll be too little, too late. I hope not. Overall, I think it’s a great product. It just needs more.