Google+ and the buzz wave of change

Jeremy Smith / Sun Star Columnist
July 6, 2011

For those who don’t know, I used to host a radio program that covered various tech issues called General Protection Fault. On this program, back in 2001, I reviewed search newcomer Google with these words, “Good search engine. Fairly inclusive. May be onto something.” Seeking total digital domination, Google has also cornered the free email (Gmail) and mapping (Google Maps/Earth) markets. Now it’s time for Google to get social.

Google Wave

Google’s first attempt was with Wave, something they described in 2010 as “both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.” It was basically a communication and online collaboration platform rolled into one package.

Google Buzz

Attempt number two, Buzz, was designed to share videos, photos, links, and status updates… just like Facebook or Twitter. The big difference was that it was all through Gmail. Both of these failed, sort of. I say sort of, because aspects of these technologies have been baked into Google+, the search giant’s answer to Facebook.

With a simple and elegant interface created by a former Apple designer, Google+ builds off another Google service, Profiles, and adds in all of the social features (friending, posting, liking) that you find on Facebook with the ability to follow people like you can on Twitter. Circles is the Google+ way of creating groups of friends that you can selectively share content with and control how they can connect back to you. Hangouts is a quick way to set up a video conference with up to 10 people while Sparks is an integration of Google’s email alerts honed down to its essence: letting you know about stuff you are interested in.

What’s the problem? Other than privacy concerns, which are a little vague at this point, none so far… except Google itself.

Google has a history of trying to build up buzz (ha) for products by doling out limited access to what they term ‘beta’ projects. Google Wave invites at one point were selling on Ebay for $70, and Google+ is no different, although the price is at a much more reasonable $15. Remember, these are FREE SERVICES.

Being that they want to test out the service before doing a full release, invites are limited, which means that the people using it are also limited. This, of course, leads to frustration because this is a social service and I have only been able to find three people to move around in my Circles. (Special thanks to Ephy for the invite!) I’m interested in seeing what happens when people I actually know have the chance to use this. Will they want to leave Facebook to jump into the thick of it with Google?

This brings me to the biggest issue I have with Google+: the complete and total lack of Google Apps support.

I am very familiar with this message.

I use a Google Apps account to manage all of my emails and communication needs. That means personal emails, work emails, Sun Star emails and just about everything else all comes into one account. I am logged in to my Gmail account all day long: managing emails, reading RSS feeds, chatting and more with no annoying ads to be seen. To use Google+, I have to actually log out and then log back in using my vanilla, ad-filled Gmail account, just in order to join this social revolution.

Considering that I pay for my Google Apps account, I would assume they would, oh I don’t know, release a feature for the paid version of their product before adding it to the free one. Granted I am in the minority… except when I consider that thousands of businesses and universities use Google Apps as the basis of their online communication infrastructure and this is potentially cutting out a very large and lucrative group of customers.

Along with the Google+ rollout in a few months, Google is also making some huge changes across all of their properties:

  • Rebranding Picasa and Blogger into Google properties
  • Removing private Profile accounts
  • Adding a black bar across the top of all the Google services (including the search page)
  • Changing the look and spacing of Gmail pages
  • Upping the number to 10 accounts that Multiple Sign-In supports

With all of these changes, Google is going to have to start dealing with the same level of uproar that Facebook faces when a margin is shrunk or the text size is adjusted. Once Google+ rolls out to everyone, I am sure even more problems will surface. And no, the last change in the list that Google is making, the one about Multiple Sign-Ins, still doesn’t fix my problem.

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