I see the Google press machine has been switched on as the company pursues the Facebook social-networking market with Plus. Google, I’m betting, must hope that history will repeat itself. It wasn’t the ﬁrst search engine, it simply did it better. Plus, in Googleland, it is a better proverbial mousetrap than Facebook.
I might have been on Google’s case in the last few years, though I should remind folks that if they didn’t keep painting big red targets on all their properties, after drawing attention to the company through incompetent support people, I would have no complaints.
Maybe it’s the anti-Google blinkers I don, but I’ve been thinking about something Stowe Boyd said recently. He recently blogged that Google succeeded with the original search engine because, at that time, someone needed to step in and organize the web. I’ve been around long enough to recall just what a revelation it was when it came out. And it’s the best organizer, according to Stowe, that can earn a few bob.
Facebook was certainly not the ﬁrst social network, to use the modern terminology, but it did things better than Bebo and the like. It had a wider targeted audience than LinkedIn, even if it started with a narrower one at Harvard. Facebook organized our social circles, so we can more easily ﬁnd that tribe of 150 that we like associating with. Even for those of us with “friend” numbers in the four ﬁgures, Facebook has allowed us, quite easily, to set up different groups for them.
As the brand has been damaged time and time again in my eyes, I began noticing a pattern recently. Nothing that Google has introduced in the last half-decade, or acquired in that period, really matters to me. I don’t use any that appear in my Google account:
Google is, instead, something that helps organize my information. I use Alerts, News and Webmaster Tools, all tied in to things that the company developed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Google does these things well. Google Translate one exception to all of this; and, of course, I have watched YouTube videos. I realize our sites carry some Doubleclick advertising—a consequence of whom our ad networks chose to deal with. (Because of that, we have been relegating those networks to a lower status.) If any of these disappeared overnight, there are substitutes.
I’m willing to bet that Stowe is right, because Google is still tied to its original offerings, where it has at least been (on the surface) respectful of user privacy. As my colleagues and I wrote in Beyond Branding, people are going to continue demanding transparency—that much is not going to change. Brands that offer it, and aren’t hypocritical about it, will do better. Outside of search and a few other places, Google hasn’t played nice. In fact, I even have my doubts about Google search, despite having Web History turned off.
Google Plus does not do anything new, and it does not (based solely on reviews I have read, though I do have a Plus invitation) offer greater organization beyond what I already have with Facebook. It has been introduced at a time when I already experience social-networking fatigue with both Facebook and Twitter (Tumblr is visually more stimulating and expressive for me, at the moment). Plus might be able to reignite an interest in social networking for some, especially with Facebook’s declines in membership in certain countries, but I think we’re on the tail end of this fad.
Question: despite all this, do I go on it? It may not be unwise, for purely commercial reasons: to consider a potential market-place. Google’s marketing machine will draw some people, though my bet is that they will ﬁnd their social networks are already sufﬁciently organized. It will last longer than the brief, early-2011 fascination with Quora, especially when it steps out of beta.
I was on LinkedIn in 2003, Facebook in 2006, Twitter and Tumblr in 2007. But this time, if I join—and it is a big if—it would be a cold, calculated, almost soulless decision. I don’t, and wouldn’t, trust the bastards. It might prove to have all the allure of my MySpace account. I have no desire to see another Google product in my dashboard—I still have to delete a Buzz follower ﬁve times a week, despite not having a Buzz account.
I have justiﬁably low expectations from this tarnished tech brand. I can just foresee contacts being visible to people who shouldn’t be able to see them. We already know that Buzz and YouTube have messed up, making things visible to people that users might not have expected. I could not willingly subject friends to privacy leaks like that, and Google has demonstrated time and time again that it’s as watertight as the Titanic.
Who knows? Using it might bring so many disappointments and push me over the edge, after which I’ll write to clients to inform them that I can no longer be the host of Google products that they use, and close the whole bloody account. Sadly, that would include the 400 of you getting this blog through Feedburner. The silver lining, at the moment, is the faint possibility that it would encourage Facebook to be less of a closed system.
Note: Stowe actually likes Google Plus, calling it ‘a giant step forwards’, but for different reasons.