Google+ … like the internet, only with a gun to your head

I have a great many things to be thankful for. One of them is my job. Too many people have no job, or a job they find hateful and demeaning.

In October of this year (which was still 2012 when I wrote this) I became the head of digital at a PR consultancy that until my arrival had taken a fairly measured approach to digital communications.

One of the consequences of this has been that I’ve been a bit more measured too. I’ve had to think carefully not just about what the right approach to a given set of requirements might be, but also about how I present my recommendations.

As challenging as this may have been, I keep reminding myself that it’s good to stop relying on familiar and comfortable ways of doing things.

As part of this, in recent weeks I’ve found myself looking at Google+ and shaking my head a little bit. “Why are you here Google+, where do you fit, what are you for, why should I care..?”

Well, it’s obvious really. If I care at all about search findings (and I do) then I have to care about Google+.

While Google has a history of not getting social (remember Wave and Buzz..?), from Panda and Penguin, through to the knowledge graph and AuthorRank, Google is working the data it holds. It has lots of data, after all, and consequently it’s working it hard.

Maybe it’s too easy to point and laugh at Google’s attempts at social – I should know, I do a lot of that pointing and laughing. Lots of people in my industry have told me in no uncertain terms how wrong I have been when I have publicly said that Google+ is another anti-social media platform from Google.

I’m not entirely wrong though. But nor should I be feeling too self righteous.

As a genuinely social platform Google+ is bit rubbish. Unless you only want to read things from fellow PR, digital and marcomms people that is. It’s like Quora on steroids… lots of brainy people showing off about the things they know about social media, all connected to other brainy people who know lots about social media.

There are no real people here. So where’s the benefit for a business of being somewhere where there are no real people? Unless you’re trying to sell to a load of self-elevated home-baked social media gurus, of course.

I’ll tell what the point is… search.

Search is the heartbeat of ecommerce. No, I can’t quite believe I just said something so nauseatingly cliched either. Let’s move on.

Want to do business online? Better hope you appear on the first page of Google search results (don’t talk to me about other search engines… they are a minority issue, at best).

Want to appear on the first page of Google results? Better get on Google+, create some content, link your profiles, etc etc.

Google+ is now an intrinsic part of the way Google handles search results, and is becoming a fundamental component in the selection of the information you are served when you go searching for ‘stuff’ online.

Suddenly Google+ looks a lot more relevant.

But then Google has just put a gun to your head.

There are lots of reasons why this is not a good thing. One of them is the incredible shrinking online world being created. That’s a subject for another post though.

Further reading

PC Pro: Google’s failed ideas: timeline of axed projects


Social media has not evolved

Any discussion of the evolution of social media misses the point. It’s the evolution of the user that has been the biggest change in the last three years.

First it was “what is the point?”

Now it’s “we must find the point!”

That’s not a technology thing. That’s people realising the potential that (some but not all) social media platforms have and trying to be among the first to exploit that potential.

The change was slow at first. As is often the case.

Googleplus was the first major new platform that had brand managers and marketers rushing around frantically. Each time Facebook makes a change you see the same thing.  That’s to say, I don’t remember the same amount of marcoms clamour around Quora.

But it’s happening with new kids on the social block now in a way that didn’t happen before.

Pinterest and Percolate are two such examples.

Yes, there are people asking “what *is* the point?” of these platforms.  But increasingly there are people investigating their potential use in a brand advocacy manner.

Why I deleted my Google+ account

I was one of the first… fact.  I got my invite to join Google+ the day after it went live – a long time before the flood gates opened.
I very quickly got into the swing of it and found it useful and enjoyable. As it should be.
I also found that within a few days I was connected with a very high caliber of people from the creative industries whose opinions, observations and thoughts I was keen to share in.
It didn’t last long though.
I grew bored quickly of the goofing around some people indulged in, but that’s their choice. After all, just because I’d decided I’d use G+ more seriously than Twitter doesn’t mean everyone else should.
Then the echo chamber started.
People I knew via Twitter as well as on G+ were sharing all the same content in both places, with no objective other than to amplify their own social media echo. Unsurprisingly, their behaviour was applauded in both worlds by the same cabal of their followers.
Frankly, I just didn’t get it.  If you’ve shown off about something on twitter and your subset of friends and acolytes have jumped up and down whooping, hollering and sharing, why is the very same thing happening on G+, I wondered? After all, you’re clearly just patting each other’s backs, not really reading any of the stuff each other are sharing and looking like complete plonkers in front of the rest of us.
I got a tired of the territorialism I experienced too.
Then there was the wave of people I’ve never heard of adding me to circles even though there is nothing I was ever likely to say or share that would be of value to them and vice versa.
So, I wouldn’t add these people back.
I am not and never will be a social media numbers whore. I know too many of those. I rate them all pretty much the same.
That got worse, of course, once G+ became publicly available.
I forget the actual trigger but one day a combination of all of the above led me to conclude that I wanted out. So I deleted my account.
Now I read that the first person to have more than one million circles on G+ is Britney Spears.
I don’t think I ever felt more vindicated.

Why I’ve fallen out of love with Google

You and I have been together for a long time now, since 1998 in fact. I know that doesn’t quite make me a bona fide early adopter. And since I first looked to you to provide me with the answers to questions that plagued me, many others have followed in my footsteps. But even though you had only been available for about a year or so back then, compared with all the others I’d gone searching with – Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, even Alta Vista – you were…. different.
Things just seemed to click between us. You were there whenever I needed you and I soon forgot about the others. You never let me down. Things were simple. I asked, you answered. You never pretended to be something you weren’t.
Times change though. Indeed, times have changed. After a while it became clear that you wanted more, you needed more. I can’t blame you for that. It’s only natural.
I discovered that some people were using you for email. I was in no hurry to join in. But in the end I did. It was important to you, and that was enough for me to give it a go.
There were Documents, allegedly. I never paid much attention to them to be honest. It felt odd, too unusual. Out of character, even. I am not one who fears change, but it’s the little changes that allow one to read another’s motivation and behaviour and I detected a change in you that I hadn’t expected.
Maybe that’s why I ignored these Documents that so many people had begun to talk about so freely. I wanted to retain my grin of ignorant bliss for as long as possible.
There were other things too. But where it really started to go wrong for me was when you started asking everyone to Wave.
By and large, we didn’t want to. A few did – I was one of them. But it soon felt more like drowning than waving.
You then started to create a Buzz. It was starting to become embarrassing. You were becoming involved in everything. It felt like random, out of control behaviour. As though you didn’t know what you wanted anymore.
Throughout, I remained loyal, faithful and true. You were my search engine. Nothing was going to change that. Not even when someone asked me if I fancied having a Bing. Yes I was tempted. But I stayed resolute.
In my mind’s eye you were still young, fresh, challenging.
But your obsession with doing more and doing it with more and more people had by now taken such a grip on you that, if I’m honest with myself, you had changed beyond comparison with how you were when we first met.
Sharing. It was like a virus.
You called it GooglePlus and it was your desperate attempt to create your own social life, having so resolutely missed the boat when others created theirs.
You wanted people to share with you. You wanted people to share with each other. Where would it end, I wondered. Frictionless sharing, that’s where. Good lord… is this really what you have become?
Nothing and no one can take from me the memories of those early days. Back in 1998, colleagues scoffed at my boyish enthusiasm for you. But they soon succumbed to your charms. I felt vindicated. And a little smug. I was on the side of an up-and-coming challenger. It felt good. I felt good.
But times move on and people change. You are now a dominant force. No longer a plucky challenger with coquettish ways and winning performance to get you through. You don’t listen like you used to. You make assumptions about what you can get away with.
I want to tell you that it isn’t you, it’s me. Thing is… it is you.
But even so, I can’t quit you – as the line goes from Brokeback Mountain. You are everywhere I look. I am reflected in your Chrome. And even as I write, somewhere a courier is bringing me my first Android-powered smartphone.
I searched for the phone online.  I…. Googled it.  For all your fancy ways, underneath it all, you are still my search engine.  Nothing can change that.

The Google+ iPhone app: who’s the biggest loser?

I read on twitter earlier today that the iPhone is the third most popular smartphone in the UK at the moment, behind BlackBerry and Android-based devices (second and first respectively).
I can’t remember the original source of that stat, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Or not – the choice is yours.
Coupled with all the brouhaha about the lack of an iPhone app for GooglePlus, this got me thinking. Who has the most to lose from the lack of such an app?
I’ve seen a lot of comments on GooglePlus (and again, this is – I’m afraid – anecdotal) saying that Google needs to pull its finger out and get an iPhone app sorted out… and fast.
I’m not sure that’s a perspective I share.
The success of the smartphone phenomenon is down to the ability to use apps and other data-dependent services on the go. If those apps and services weren’t appealing, didn’t offer any value to the user, would the smartphone be as ubiquitous as it has become? I, for one, think not.
It is still too early to say whether GooglePlus will be a long-lasting success or just another flash in the social media pan. So far though, I think all the indications are pretty positive.
The lack of an iPhone app isn’t going to impede the success of GooglePlus. Some of the most active people I know on it are also iPhone users. They’re using it because it gives them value. Not because it is associated with one device or another.
The same might not be so true in reverse.
If Apple’s loyal iPhone customer base begin to see there are other smartphones that offer a better all-round data experience they may start to consider jumping ship rather than upgrading to a new iPhone next time their contract is up for renewal.
Apple risks, therefore, experiencing some of the same disintermediation that blights the network operators. In the UK Orange, Vodafone and O2 used to enjoy significant brand loyalty among their customers. Not any more. They are the plumbing that allows the cool stuff to flow. Nothing more.
If Apple finds GooglePlus (or anything for that matter) starts to come between the iPhone brand and its customers it will be the one who loses out ultimately.
The onus therefore, in my opinion, has to be on Apple to redouble its efforts in being more open, something where it still has much to prove.