I think anyone who has used Google Plus in the last year of its operation is going to have a difficult time describing it as a success story so far. There was a lot of early enthusiasm for the new “social network” when it first came out, but the odd sparsity of the early system left a lot of people wandering back to their respective corners of the social universe. Recent changes, particularly to the mobile application for Plus, have made me rethink what Google is actually after.
Google Plus is going to change the way a goodly portion of the web views the web by the end of this year, I think. Here are three good reasons why.
It is not a social network
The most limiting thing about the way people regard Plus is that we tend to see it as a rival to Twitter and Facebook. In some respects, this is true. But the sense of a global conversation that Twitter encompasses or the sense of a get-together with friends that Facebook (in its most generous light) encompasses isn’t really on Plus. Because it isn’t a social network.
It might best described as a social reader. Think of it like your NOOK, except immersed in sharing culture. You set the channels up that you want – Circles of popular web pubs, great photographers, local journalists and (ahem) media sources – and they build your reading list.
It is beautiful
Particularly on the mobile client, this is true. Content flows elegantly from one box to the next, sometimes two wide, others just one large block dominates a row. Content creators are rewarded for using rich media posts, readers are rewarded for following content creators that take Plus seriously. Browsing Plus on my (jailbroken) NOOK is a pleasure. Photos are bright and clear, articles with featured images look like something straight out of a magazine.
Compare this to Twitter’s attempt at adding rich text, their Twitter Cards and it’s no contest. Facebook’s embrace of rich media has been around longer, but honestly, I can’t say it has done better. Photos are grainy, YouTube and other video content is clunky and too small. And the mobile version of Facebook has the maddening (to a web developer, anyway) habit of allowing images to break the bounds of their containers. It all looks.. well,.. rather MySpace-ish.
The beauty of Google’s rich text adds to its appeal as a browser: you can read news articles, watch HD videos and see gorgeous pictures from National Geographic in the same vehicle.
We are all content creators
Google Plus makes it pretty clear that the primary thing that every other social network has struggled with is the beast they created: the effortless means by which we can all create content. If all you do is endorse someone else’s work with an RT or like, you can and will create a stream of content that others feel compelled to pay attention to.
Twitter has for the most part stuck with the egalitarian sparseness of their interface, bringing CNN down to the exact same level of pomp as any other person you follow. Facebook has made misbegotten attempts to embrace rich media over and over again, and sloppy formatting aside, has created a logical mishmash of the whole thing. Why, for example, can content creators who have Pages not see their fans’ timelines? Pinterest allows you to be a visual creator if you wish. That’s about it.
Ultimately, each platform will house its own content and its own communities. Twitter’s “news first” community will not be dented by Plus. But I think as a new means of quickly scanning news of interest – and of social collaboration to shape that news – Google Plus will be the one to watch this year. Since Google has made every attempt to tie their every product back to Plus, you can bet that whether you want to or not, you’re probably going to have plenty of contact with it. And for many of us, Plus may be our window on a large section of what makes the Internet worth sharing elsewhere.