Imagine that one day, Facebook decides to put all its engineering effort into creating the best spreadsheet program you’ve ever seen–10 times more powerful than Microsoft Excel and way simpler to control and navigate.Can you imagine trying to convince people around the office to use Facebook Spreadsheets? There’s no way you could convince anyone that you were actually doing real work because of the Facebook branding. Could a banker realistically send a hundred million dollar client a financial model built in Facebook Spreadsheets? You’d get fired on the spot and/or laughed out of the office, no matter what features it had.
That’s basically how your friends feel about your invite to be in your Google+ Circle, except the opposite. You’re going to look like a dork that takes your social networking far too seriously. You’re the awkward teen who picks up their first date in the family station wagon.
Social sites have a brand–a vibe–and that goes a long way to dictating what kinds of people use the site. Actually, it’s a bit circular, because the initial users are also the ones who dictate the brand. I remember a few years ago when I tried to get a financial professional to blog and he wound up creating a LiveJournal site. He wasn’t necessarily wrong, per se–LiveJournal was indeed a place to blog–it just wans’t an appropriate site for professional blogging. It’s hard to explain why that’s the case from a pure feature standpoint, but when your site is full of angsty 15 year old girls, it’s probably not the best place to be talking small cap equities.
Would Vimeo be has cool if it wasn’t for its initial hipster indie video userbase? What if it had lunched via Techcrunch 50 instead?
Facebook was born out of the most social experience most of us have ever known–college. It’s DNA comes from the social aspirations of those wanting to fit in. Students were chomping at the bit for their school to be let into Facebook–because they were just as good as Princeton, right? Then, the rest of us wanted in because we wanted to be cool like all the college kids.
Google+’s raison d’être is one big company fighting the battle for attention on the internet with another big company–hardly the transformational spark that cause social revolutions on the internet.
Google, while it may not remember or like it, is a tool. It’s a way to find stuff. It’s even a verb. More important to this discussion, though, it’s a tool we don’t stick around on. We search, we click, we leave… and that’s the brand that everyone has come to know it by. It would be quite a turnaround for Google to suddenly start being the kind of place you hang out in like Facebook. Our friends aren’t there–just a random bunch of early adopters who for some reason want to share their photos with me even thought I don’t know them.
Without a clear plan for getting the people you care about into Google+–assuming you’re not only friends with people who read Techcrunch–there isn’t a very good reason for you to recreate yet another social media profile and start your graph from scratch again. Privacy isn’t a way to tip the scales. Most people really don’t care all that much. They say they do, but if you give them another site just like Facebook, except one that improves the privacy features, they probably won’t budge. You’re either comfortable with being on the web or you’re not. I’ve yet to meet this fence sitting crowd that can’t wait to use a new social network just as soon as it gets privacy settings right–and is willing to put all their friends into carefully chosen and permissed groups to do it.
What Google missed with “+” is the fact that they already had a cool brand that resonated with the masses. I don’t think I realised it until last week standing in like at the Blue Smoke stand at Citifield. The server behind the counter noticed the t-shirt I had on with a little green robot walking a dog.
“Ooooh! Android! I love it!”
If the goal was to build a social network around Google products–a cool place you wanted to hang around in–instead of inventing new terms that sound like they came out of a focus group, they should have used the cool brand they already had–Android. Everyone loves the little green robot and they forget that its owned by the biggest baddest Borg mothership. People don’t think of themselves as having Google phones–they have Androids.
Instead, they wound up with an effort that feels a bit like the turtle in JPod–forced, soulless, corporate–a solution to a problem no one was asking to solve.
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