Google+, Competing Via Firehose, How Much Better is Enough?

I bugged a friend of mine at Google and instantly got up and running on the new kid on the block, Google+.  Of course, now I'm much cooler than you since I got in and you're not haha - alas, I'm sure that coolness is short-lived.

I launched into Google+ with little expectations.  As soon as I got in, I was presented with a rather overwhelming page - circles? streams? friends? a bunch of tweet-like shares sitting there in my stream already - pictures also. Talk about information overload.

So I poked around.  Trying to invite some other friends was really tough.  Why bury that in the circles function?  And why do I need to add their name? Can't I just send them an invite? After all, I want all my friends on the system.

But oh wait, these circles allow me to categorize my connections. The drag-drop UI is pretty slick, but geez I just ended up dragging them all into my Friends circle.  It's too hard to categorize these people.  And I'm pretty particular with who I add to my Facebook friends in any case - but even that has reached unmanageable numbers (or so I think: I just went to Facebook to look up how many friends I have and I can't seem to figure it out! I've got SO many that Facebook can't even count them up for me LOL).

Man, it seems that Google threw the kitchen sink in here. No MVP for them! Or actually, the M stands for Maximal instead of Minimum. So maybe MVP still applies!  It will take me a few days to navigate around and figure this out.  Somebody tagged me in a picture so many of the usual Facebookian functions are found here.

The stream is fun - seeing pictures auto displayed there is pretty cool, although it wrecks the stream UI a bit so scanning is tougher than just lines of text on twitter.  Still, Twitter is the default real time stream of choice due to momentum.

Which brings me back to this point.  Big, established internet companies have a huge advantage when launching new products in the area of distribution.  In the old days at Yahoo!, we used to call this the "firehose" of users which we can direct to any property we launched.  We merely had to create and launch a new site, and then if we could get permission to get it listed on the Yahoo! homepage, it would instantly get traffic.  In fact, it didn't matter if the site sucked or not; merely putting it on the Yahoo! homepage guaranteed a steady stream of users who clicked on the link and visited the site.  In fact, many business units in the past dangerously created revenue projections on traffic patterns generated by the presence of that link on the Yahoo! homepage, which suddenly were destroyed when somebody decided that the link to that site shouldn't be on there any more, or moved to a less advantageous position on the page like below the fold.

Today, getting users is tough - tougher than you can imagine. Which is really why only someone like Google could even think about launching something that competes not only with Facebook but also with Twitter at the same time, especially given the dominance that these two sites have among the userbase.  A company which does not have an existing userbase with which to firehose a new service will stand little chance of gaining any sort of traction, like startups for example.

But is it enough? Firehoses are super important, but you have to firehose the right thing or else once the firehose stops, then traffic dies off too, like in my Yahoo! example.  Or in some cases, even firehosing isn't enough to generate traction.

After a few minutes of playing around, it seems that the real time aspect dominates the initial views.  Then, I can group my connections into circles and I can share posts to certain or all circles.  And on top of that, there are some nice UI/UX enhancements and arguably there are some differences in UX between the two even as a lot of the UX is similar.  I'm not sure Google+ has a better UX than Facebook or Twitter though; at the moment, they seem very similar and there are things I like more about Facebook and Twitter as I like some of the new elements in Google+.  So I can say for now that I think that there really isn't some dominant aspect of Google+ that would attract me to switch and use Google+ more than my old services of Facebook and Twitter.

Therefore, if Google+ competes head to head with Twitter and Facebook, is the firehose enough to win, along with some incremental enhancements in the UX?

First, as I've often talked about, incremental improvement is simply not enough to cause switching (see condition 3 in <a href="">What I Really Mean By "Souring on Internet-Only Startups"</a>).  The state of Google+ doesn't seem to be all that much better.

Granted, there may be better integration with Google services - many of us have often noted that email is simply a representation of a social network already but nobody has really exploited this fact to great effect.  Certainly, a ton of people have Google mail services so there is an enormous base to draw from.  Perhaps the inertia of early adopters may draw enough people in to start using Google+ to make it survive.  Still, I think it is going to be hard given that Facebook and Twitter dominate social networking.  To make it more likely, I think Google+ needs some exponential improvement over Facebook and Twitter but I don't see that yet; perhaps there will be something in the future.

Another potential competitive advantage that could be exploited is branding.  Facebook used to be a cool brand but I'm not so sure right now - I think it's more utility now.  Twitter is more recently cool and still there is more cool brand value than Facebook; it's also moving to utility now that people are exploring its news and communication delivery capabilities.  But would you consider being part of a Google social network a must-have, enhancing your own coolness by being on it?

The firehose of a highly trafficked web service like Google is an incredible asset and brought to bear on a truly transformative, useful, and/or cool web service, it can accelerate discovery and adoption and vault it into the mainstream.  But point that firehose at something less than that and the service will die once you take that firehose away.  The jury is still out on whether Google+ can be more than just on parity with its competitors, Facebook and Twitter.  If it doesn't, what waste of a perfectly good firehose...

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