Here’s what Google+ could have been

April 6, 2012 | 2 comments

Confession: I want to like Google+. I think competition is a great thing, and Google is in a unique position to do something fascinating with social platforms. It’s also significant that a lot of really brilliant people from the decentralized web community – Chris Messina, Will Norris and Stephen Paul Weber, for example – now work at Google. (Not to mention Elgg’s Evan Winslow.) I have nothing but respect for those guys. And, hey, I’ll admit that I’m a little envious that they get to work on it.

In my opinion, search needs to be at the center of social software. It’s how you find new people, resources and shared conversations. As I argued on a panel at SXSW 2011, it’s far more natural to visit someone’s profile by typing “Ben Werdmuller” (for example) into a box than typing “http://benwerd.com/” or “http://facebook.com/ben.werdmuller”.

Google has over 66% of the US search market, so it’s in a great place to be where that happens, which is presumably what was on their minds when they decided to build a social platform. They also have traditionally had a problem with the “deep web” – the non-public bits of information that its spiders can’t get to. More and more, that’s because these web resources are subject to user-centric access permissions within web applications. Because the Google search spider isn’t a user, it doesn’t have access to these resources, and they never get listed.

Which is why I’m so surprised that Google+ has remained a monolithic social dashboard, akin to Twitter or Facebook. (In fact, it’s more so than Facebook, which has done a great job at turning itself into a very impressive social platform.) You share stuff using +1 buttons or the interface on the Google+ site itself, and are limited to the small number of data types that Google have provided on their own site. You can post links, photos, videos and text updates.

But Google is great at making platforms. Because of its openness, Google Maps is still the go-to standard for displaying cartographic information on the web. (It’s significant that its creator now works at Facebook.) Google Analytics is just about everywhere. And Google APIs are typically easy to use, fast to integrate and powerful.

So why isn’t Google+ a platform? The Circles functionality is brilliant: nuanced access control made simple. If Google integrated those access controls throughout the whole web, allowing anyone to integrate them into their sites and applications with search and universal sharing across all of them, they would effectively become a social application operating system. It would be a new kind of platform altogether, and would cement their search portal – and thus, their advertising – as the default place to look for connected resources. To keep privately-shared resources secure, social objects could be stored in the Google cloud, presenting themselves to a requesting application only if the authenticated user had access. At Elgg, we wanted to do this with a feed format called the Open Data Definition half a decade ago, but didn’t have the resource to execute to our satisfaction; Google has those resources. Universally shareable social objects with privacy controls, searchable via a unified Google interface, would transform the web.

Maybe this is what Google is warming up to. But right now, and probably for the foreseeable future, Facebook is a more interesting social platform.

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2 Comments

  1. Didn’t Google already try “social as a platform” with Google friend connect?  The problem is that nobody adopted it.  Other decentralized systems, like status.net and Diaspora also have not seen wide adoption.  I think the lesson is that you need to build a destination site first, and then open it up once it is adopted, and this is exactly what Google is doing.  They want to avoid the problem with Google Buzz where people just pushed their Twitter feed into it and then never visited it again.  My guess is that they will slowly open up the APIs and standards as it grows.  There is no point in having APIs for a social network that nobody is using.  I think this is the right move, and that the naysayers are not seeing the long-term picture.

    G+ is already a more useful social network for some purposes than Facebook or Twitter.  For example, I organize online seminars using hangouts and the ability to livestream and integrate with YouTube is ideal for that.

    My advice is to be patient.  G+ may not be what you want it to be right now, but I think it will be in the future.

    Matthew Leifer April 6, 2012 (3:43 pm)
  2. Google+ failed. Not allowing people to use their own personal email account is a no no. People don’t want another email account just for social networking. It is a ghost town because G+ notifications are sent, guess where? To the gmail/G+ account. Like millions, I don’t need another email account to be in a social network.

    Look at twitter, facebook, etc. You can sign up using your own email account. That’s google mistake. Trying to ‘integrate’ G+ with Google services is a bad idea. Look at Orkut, it faded away once you needed a Gmail account to sign up.

    G+ will not last long

    rodolfo hernandez July 12, 2012 (2:57 pm)

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