Google+ is live and growing rapidly, changing the entire social media landscape as the Mountain View crew changes how people look at it and how it looks at the world.
A little over a year ago, Google decided to face an uncomfortable fact: the Web had gone social, and Google wasn't in the center of it any more, in spite of it's search engine's dominance. With Facebook and Twitter at the center of the emerging "social graph", the rich lode of content and metadata that everyday people were generating on the Web, was becoming the main tool that helped people to discover content - and where they spent their time on the Web. Google's dominant, ultra-fast search technology was in danger of being eclipsed by its lack of access to Facebook pages, which Microsoft was gaining access to through a partnership that brought their Bing search engine to the Facebook portal. The open Web that had fed Google's revenues and its vision was fast becoming a stopoff point on the path to increasingly closed worlds of content.
Rather than committing its brand to social media full-force, Google had carved out little side-pockets of projects that had moderate commitment from its senior management at best, in spite of some prominent guest appearances at launches. The mojo-makers at Google were committing Google's brand to search, ads, mobile phones, video, books, music, tablets, photos and other initiatives that seemed to have grabbed the laurels while a few small teams of tech geniuses toiled away in relative obscurity on social media projects. But none of the Google suffixes growing out of these initiatives - AdWords, Android, Chrome, YouTube - would make much of a difference if the Web on which they relied for revenues was disappearing behind closed walls and becoming indecipherable to Google search technologies.
In other words, it wasn't just that Google was losing social. Google was at risk of losing its core brand value. With hundreds of millions of people saying "Facebook me" as instinctively as they used to say "Google me," there had to be a game-changing frame of mind at Google. If the Web had gone fundamentally social, every product at Google had to become fundamentally social.
characterized by Bradley Horowitz, one of the project's leaders, as being like a moon shot. The scale of Emerald Sea would span almost every Google platform, would become embedded in every key page of Google services, and would realign fundamentally the relationship that it had with its billions of users. Like the U.S race to the moon, though, tight deadlines would mean that this would have to be a project that built on the work of previous efforts, focusing existing work as much as inventing new work. The result: Google Buzz, the maligned social media platform that did many things right in the wrong context, and Google Profiles, which incorporated streams of posts from people's Buzz accounts, would become the core product elements for a new central platform for sharing messages, photos, videos, links, and locations.
Google+, would be more than putting Buzz-like infrastructure to broader use. For example, Buzz already had the ability for people to share content to limited groups of people, based on groups of contacts in Gmail. It was an awkward system to use, in part because it required wrestling with Gmail's features and in part because it wasn't very easy to filter people's sharing by groups. Enter Andy Hertzfeld, a software design maven who worked on the look and feel of Apple's breakthrough graphic interface design on its original Macintosh computers. Gone was any semblance of Gmail's old-school contacts interface, in its place a fun interface that enables people to drag and drop contacts into groupings called Circles.
Google has also sweetened the pot by offering unlimited storage on Picasaweb/Photos. Also on the Web version of Google + are Hangout, a videoconferencing feature that enables up to ten people to share a video "party line," and Sparks, a specially tuned version of Google news that selects filtered articles and blog posts from Google News to "spark" conversations in Google+. The main toolbar that appears at the top of all of Google's main pages such as Gmail and its Web search page, now includes status notifications for Google+ and a small, Twitter-like box for sharing messages on Google+.
The Web as a whole and social media mavens in particular are still struggling to adjust to just what Google+ means for them. For those who have focused on making social media mass media, Google+ offers a new opportunity to continue that - but not just that. The Circles function of Google+ makes it far easier for people to work on many different levels of public and private interchange through text, photos, live video and mobile sharing, combining the intimacy of sharing and friends and family on Facebook in a more private environment with the ability to shout to the world on demand. In a sense, the legal backlash against Google's gaffes with privacy management have served them well, forcing them to come up with a way to balance public and private personas that puts the social back in social media.
Data Liberation Front," which enables anyone with content and data in a Google product to move it in and out of that product. This is a direct challenge to Twitter and Facebook, products which enable content to be generated by its users but which in essence own that content forever and make it difficult to take it with you when you leave their services. This is both good policy and clever marketing by Google, giving it "white hat" status on both privacy and ownership issues that many other social media players have been reluctant to embrace. Yet again, it's the Web that Google wants to win, and for the Web to win, Google's users have to be winners on it and feel safe on it. Wherever their data goes, chances are pretty good that Google's searches and ads will benefit from it..
So as much as Google+ is designed to address virtually every imaginable feature that a social media platform could offer and every issue that a person could have with using those features, it's really about the future of the Web itself. Without the open Web, the Google brand is nothing. And without Google succeeding on mobile platforms with social media, the center of the emerging world of Web-first mobile communications, the Google brand will miss out on its greatest opportunities for growth for years to come. Google+ has entered the scene at a time at which Google needed to address one of its key weaknesses if it wanted to keep from losing its foundations. To that end, Google+ will serve it well. Beyond that end, if it serves the Web well, then we all should breathe a sigh of relief.