Monday, September 19, 2011

What's Wrong with Google+?

I've told this story before, so if you've heard it already, just skip to the next paragraph:  I joined Facebook in October of 2006.  At that time, everyone I know was on MySpace.  The only people on Facebook were college kids (I didn't know at all), and geeks/nerds/dorks drawn by curiosity (whom I also didn't know).  Every friend, colleague, relative and neighbor I asked to join said one of two things:

"I use MySpace.  Why would I switch to Facebook?"

or

"What's Facebook?"

I stuck with it until late 2007 when I grew tired of visiting a social vacuum, closing my account around Christmas of that year.  Then, sometime in 2008, Facebook rolled out a bunch of changes to incorporate new friend features, update streams and, most importantly: games.  Facebook's games seemed to have become the porch light to the mosquitoes of human culture.  All of a sudden, everyone I knew was joining up and the urgency was propelled by an exponential factor.  All I heard in the Fall of 2008 (from those same people) was "You HAVE to join Facebook!  It's the coolest thing!!!"  Talk about drinking the Kool Aid.

social-network

So, I joined back up and played along for a few years.  I then watched as it devolved from an open discussion medium, into a circus festival of game invites, quote repostings, news repeats, religious and political article repostings, stupid animated GIFs postings and more game invites.  The portion of actual discussion fell from somewhere in the 90 percentile of content to less than 10 percent.  Sad.  The tool that was supposed to embolden our "social" interaction became a farce of social distraction.  Sound bitter?  Maybe.  More sad than bitter. 

The momentum seemed to peak in 2010 but I saw a curious erosion of openness following a barrage of political disagreements during and following election time.  The economic aspects that drove a wedge into the heart of our once congenial social climate, played out in emotional arguments over visceral views of "conservative" versus "liberal" and so on.  A lot of people clammed up.  As a safe refuge: rather than cutting each other off abruptly, they hid behind more game scores, game invites, cute video clips of kittens doing stupid tricks, and more reposts of quotes and religious phrases.  Direct communication took a major hit, in general, as compared to only a year or two prior.

So along comes Google+ and again, the cycle repeats:  Nerds are the first to jump on and explore what the hype is all about.  Google tried to make it "hep" by making it invitation-only.  That was cool for about two weeks.  Then the promise of a new model for organizing your social interaction groups with logical channels of thought.  The monolithic model Facebook had relied on for years was now looking outdated.  Then Google shot from the hip at things like privacy settings, export options, and promises for much more cool stuff coming "soon".

"Soon" didn't happen soon enough.  In fact, most of what Google+ users have been waiting for now seems to have been forgotten.  The numbers tell a bleak story: 41% drop in unique posts in the last month alone.  There have been numerous articles and blog posts already on what's wrong with the project and what it should be doing to make things right:

  • Open it up to the public (no more invitations required)
  • Relax the anonymity naming rules
  • Add vanity names for businesses and organizations
  • Integrate other Google services into the fold
  • Improve the mobile app features
  • Add threading to feedback comments
  • Add "Send To" option for Google+ on Google Reader
  • Offer some incentives for Facebook users to spend more time on Google+

The list goes on and on.  But none of these things seem to be happening.  The last six announced feature improvements were trivial adjustments to existing features, rather than radically new capabilities.  Bad move. It feels like a track race where the gun went off, the runner led past the first two hurdles and then, for unknown reasons, decided to walk.

Unless they have some incredibly fantastic amazing mindblowing new feature or incentive coming out soon, I can't see Google reclaiming the excitement and urgency they had during those first two weeks it was brought to life.  The window of opportunity is closing fast.  What a shame too.  I really felt it had something interesting and unique to offer, but this is looking more and more like Google Wave 2.0 now (I mean that in every possible way).  I'll stick with it to the end.  The sad, quiet, dying end... keeping hope alive.

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