I think it’s about time that Google stopped worrying. In the recent past Facebook has risen to become the hottest thing on the net. Apple, in the last decade has raced ahead as a brand in the Personal computing and Gadget industry. And since the recession of 2008, Google’s stock has been up and down pointing to a much expected plateau in the near future. If recent developments are something to go by, the aforementioned obstacles should no longer give Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and other Google big-wigs sleepless nights. The reason I’m saying this is the launch of Google’s latest venture, a social networking platform – Google+.
Google+ is an invite only Social Networking platform currently operating as a beta. Making it a beta is a masterstroke by Google. As we all know, Google’s track record with “betas” has been terrific in the past. Gmail, Google’s Email service was released as beta and look at where it is today! As of November 2010, Gmail has galloped to over 193 million users and counting. Releasing Google+ as a beta is a masterstroke because it enables Google to gain true first hand interaction with the users and gain valuable inputs from them. The users identify the flaws and suggest alternatives and solutions to them. This way Google knows the exact demands and specifications required by the consumer base and is able to deliver a better and refined product to them. Releasing it as an Invite-only service was also a masterstroke by Google. Google identified its most ‘valuable’ users and offered this facility to them and in turn granted them to invite up to 400 buddies. This created hype and an aura of exclusivity around Google+ but, at the same time, the invites option still makes it very accessible.
In this manner people get talking about Google+. More and more people are drawn to this hype and eventually request their friends to give them a slice of the internet’s newest pie. The Invite only system also makes Google+’s flaws less visible for the time being. Till the time Google+ does not go completely public, it will take a while for the significant user base to develop. Hence, not many people will notice flaws, if any effectively a lot less people will revert to their previous social networks. Therefore, when it finally goes public, having fine tuned itself based on user response, Google+ will have a large market eagerly waiting for it.
Google Critics are saying that in its current form, Google+ looks like a redundant derivative of Facebook and Twitter with a future similar to that of Google Buzz’s. But in giving Google+ a familiar interface, Google has made a smart move. A familiar interface makes it possible for users to quickly adapt to Plus and thus migrate more readily. It was the complete ‘complexity’ and uniqueness of Google Wave’s interface that did not allow it to take off. In its current form Google+’s biggest strength is what critics consider to be Facebook’s biggest weakness.
Every Tech enthusiast knows what I’m talking about- Privacy. Facebook started life as a privacy disaster and its various efforts to rectify the problem have been sticky plaster implementations. Google+’s ‘Circles’ are the only thing Mark Zuckerburg and his genius gang have failed to conceive. Whereas Facebook users are given an option in a pop up window to individually choose who has access to one’s posts, Google has simplified this to a single tag representing different groups of people in one’s social circle. With Plus, users can make circles like Friends, Family, and Work etc. Content control is central to Google plus. After all who would want their Parents or Boss seeing pictures of them drunk? Twitter briefly tried filters but unfortunately they did not work with its platform. Google+ on the other hand is the perfect platform to implement such a feature.
This will not only help in creating an increasing consumer base but also result in migrations of users and profits from other platforms. The Android application is also impressive, with a focus on location based data ‘nearby’ I can easily see at a glance the sort of thing I ordinarily would have turned to Twitter for. It takes elements and strengths from each of these networks and has perfectly implemented them together. Huddles for example, have pretty much eradicated the need for me to ever send a text message again to my friends on Android platforms using Google+.
Hangouts are going to be one the strongest advantages Google+ has over the competition in my opinion. Video is a fantastic way to interact with others, and with hangouts, I can see logging into Google+ to communicate with others both on a professional and personal level. I use Skype for these sorts of interactions currently, and with the multiple participants available for free, (Skype currently requires a subscription for this) will find motivation to switch.
Finally, now, I come to the reason/s for which I see Google+ as a potential game changer. Google stated that Google+ was meant to be a convenient platform for business’ to make effective interactions. Obviously Google did not state the real purpose of Google+ which was to dethrone Facebook from Social Network supremacy and cement its stronghold over the overall technology industry with its best invention since Google search. Google+ has enormous potential which could possibly change the web and computing experience for ever. Facebook too has the potential to have such an effect but at this moment, in my opinion the odds are favoring Google. Google has the creative, intellectual and financial capabilities to transform the social networking experience into something more than just social networking. I’m not saying that Facebook does not possess the above resources but Google currently, is pretty seasoned in most sectors of the tech industry which Facebook isn’t and will not be for at least the coming three years. Google + has the potential to enable Google to unify different aspects of the computing and web experience and make one homogenous masterpiece. Google can link its hugely popular Email service to Google+. The Google search engine can be incorporated into the platform to allow users to not just search social networks but also the entire World Wide Web. Google’s acquisitions like Youtube can be incorporated into Google+ to make it an entertainment hub. Google News and all other Google facilities can be made one with Google+. Orkut users can immediately be made a part of the Google+ user base. All Android phones could come with an inbuilt Google+ app. Eventually, if all pieces fall where Google wants them to, I see a point where Google develops Personal Computers and Mobile OS’s which are based on a Google plus platform and automatically connect a user of this OS to his Social Circle. If this is to succeed, Google could also enter hardware and make computers and cell phones built in with its OS and of course built in with Google’s clean, no frills and all speed browser- Chrome. I’m not talking on the lines of the Nexus but something more drastic.
But, this final point I feel is highly unlikely and Google would, in all likelihood have to collaborate with some other firm to enter hardware. Also, competetitors like Apple won’t sit idle. I know this scenario seems really optimistic (from the Google point of view) but I feel that Google has the capability to achieve all of the above in the next 5-8 years. The success of this could lead to Google having an overall domination (maybe even monopoly) over the Tech industry even greater than that of Microsoft’s when it revolutionized personal computing with its Windows OS. I see Google+ as the final piece of a master plan, which Google may have already envisioned. The pieces just need to be fitted together and we could see the dawn of a new era in personal computing, mobile computing and the Web experience. There will be only one relevant website-Google. The first thing a person will see on switching his phone and computer on will be Google. If a person would want his mail, it will be Google Entertainment- Google. News- Google. Friends- Google. Information and research- Google. Phone call- Google A person would get everything he requires from Google. Other websites and Operating Systems will be reduced to insignificance.
All of this depends on the success of Google+ (which in my opinion is likely) because without a significant consumer base it would not be viable to undertake a venture of such mammoth proportions. If such a thing does indeed happen, we should brace ourselves for a sweeping change in not just the technology world but also in society.