Google Plus has done several things better than Facebook. Their approach to organising friends and controlling who sees what is much more granular and realistic than Facebook’s – even after the recent changes to Facebook which reacted to the launch of Google Plus.
But Google Plus demonstrates the marked difference between the two companies and highlights the huge flaw in Google’s abilities. It’s clear to me that Facebook understands people very well, but isn’t so good at organising data, whereas Google is brilliant with data and doesn’t seem to understand people. In order to be successful as a social network, you need to understand people, but Google’s succession of misjudgements reveals the flaw.
Products like Google Buzz and Google Wave seem to have been invented as ideas rather than something to fill a need. People who looked at them wondered what they were looking at or even why they would look twice and, unsurprisingly, they didn’t catch on. The most exciting thing about Google Plus in the early stages was Circles and the way you can post content and manage people you follow. I’ve written about Circles and Extended Circles before. The interface was clean and getting started on Google Plus was a breeze. But, look at the list of calamities:
No business pages
Google thought Plus was for people and that only people would want to use it. Because they built it over Google Profiles, they perhaps mistakenly saw it as a convergence of LinkedIn and Facebook. When businesses tried to set up brand profiles, many were deleted, causing a wave of angry criticism.
Real names policy
To have a Google Plus profile you have to use your real name. Google thinks this is a valid rule because it quite rightly doesn’t want its community to have to deal with all manner of spammers and scammers. But now there is no way to differentiate yourself between hundreds of other users with the same name. I am not the only Steve Masters out there – I am a famous DJ, a speedway racer, a BA pilot, an IT consultant, a new media professional (several times) and a gay porn star. Good luck getting the right one.
Single user business pages
You can set up a business page now on Google Plus but, guess what, Google has forgotten that businesses are not run by one person. Each business page can only be linked to one profile. Any intern could have told them that was a bad idea.
No fun content
The other day I presented a workshop at which one attendee said, “Google Plus is like arriving at a party too early.” Whereas with Facebook you tend to know many of the people whose posts are appearing, on Google Plus you see material from people you barely know. You can easily follow anyone, therefore there’s no personality to it yet. Also, Google doesn’t want us to do anything fun like running offers, competitions or offering coupons. So, Google Plus IS a bit like arriving at the party early, but the question is will the host liven up the party or will they kill it by telling us where to sit and what games to play?
Google Plus has the potential to be much better than Facebook but until Google learns to understand people as much as it understands data, Plus will always be living in Facebook’s shadow.