Google+: 13 Questions to Ponder
What happens when it really gets integrated with the rest of Google?
Little bits of Google+ are already lashed together with little bits of other Google services, such as Picasa. And the new black bar across the top of most of Google gives Google+ users easy access to the service. But for the most part, it feels like a separate, largely self-contained world. I imagine that the +1 button is what's going to make Google+ feel like more than the sum of its largely engaging parts: at some point, all the +1-ing that people are doing will start to have a profound impact on Google search results. But I'm not sure whether Google has it all figured out yet.
What happens to Buzz?
Was Google Buzz really only announced back in February of last year? It became irrelevant so quickly that it seems like it all happened longer ago than that. Now Buzz is a tab within G+, which only helps to emphasize how redundant it'll be if G+ catches on. Will Google figure out a way to utterly meld Buzz into G+ so they become the same thing? Would anyone care if it simply killed Buzz, period?
Is the rest of Google going to look more like Circles?
Far more than Buzz or Google Wave, Google+ has a "this is the future of Google" feel about it-an aspect seemingly confirmed that it launched at the same time Google redesigned its home page to give it a G+-like feel and announced a Gmail revamp with some of the same flavor. But there are aspects of the service that, while neat, feel positively un-Googley. Especially the playful Circles interface, which was designed by legendary interface guy Andy Hertzfeld. As Wired's Steven Levy explained it in his excellent behind-the-scenes look at Google+:
"Traditionally, Larry Page has been a blood foe of 'swooshy' designs and animations geared to delight users. He feels that it such frills slow things down. But Page has signed off on the pleasing-pixel innovations in Circles, including a delightful animation when you delete a circle: It drops to the bottom of the screen, bounces and sinks to oblivion. That animation adds a few hundred milliseconds to the task; in the speed-obsessed Google world that's like dropping 'War and Peace' on a reading list. 'I've heard in the past that Larry Page he didn't like animations but that didn't stop me from putting in a lot of animations in, and Larry told me he loves it,' says Hertzfeld. 'Maybe Apple's resurgence had a little bit to do with it.' In any case, Google has recently tapped Hertzfeld as the design leader of the Emerald Sea team."
The Circles interface isn't just strikingly different from classic Google-it's also a departure from Facebook, which has always fulfilled its mission of being a "social utility" in part by erring on the side of being straightforward, not gimmicky. If people like it-and they seem to!-will existing and upcoming Google services show its idiosyncratic influence?
Can G+ make a serious dent in Facebook?
Throughout tech history, great new things have come along and trounced once-great old things. But almost always, the new thing has succeeded partially because the old thing did itself in through arrogance, complacency, confusion, or a combination thereof. Facebook makes its share of blunders -- maybe more than its share -- but it's awfully good at bouncing back. Google+ might do just fine with a fraction of Facebook's users -- it could be the Bing of social networks -- but it really feels like it wants to be the primary social network for an enormous number of people. People who are presumably already on Facebook. Even if G+ gets better and better, will it be alluring enough to prompt a mass Facebook exodus?
Will it make a dent in Twitter?
Most of the discussion of who gets hurt (maybe) by G+ involves Facebook. But hey, it's already more powerful than Twitter (no 140-character limit!), and has characteristics in common with it, too.
What if it turns out to be a modest success?
Robert Scoble, who makes his living by rushing into new Web services and telling the rest of us what they mean, thinks that neither yo momma nor yo daddy is going to like Google+, at least in its initial form. He's okay with that, but I'd imagine that Google will be very disappointed if G+ doesn't catch on with the masses. What if it turns out to be of interest mostly to the Scobles, would-be Scobles, social-media fans, geeks, and tinkerers? Will Google still invest a lot of energy in it, or will it let it fester à la something like Google Groups?
What does this mean for Google's relationship with the rest of the social networking world?
Google's Realtime Search-a neat service which the company announced back in 2009 with great fanfare-is either dead or in limbo. The official story is that Google took it offline because an agreement with Twitter lapsed, and while I'm not saying that's not the truth, it's surely not the whole story. I don't think anything sneaky is going on, but I wonder if Google will try as hard to index other social networks if it sees them as more direct competition-and whether they'll be as anxious to get be indexed by Google.
Sorry to come back to the comparison to Bing again, but like Microsoft's search engine, Google+ has to improve at a particularly rapid clip to stay relevant. If it's pretty much the same service in even three months that it is now, it won't get the same glowing reviews that have greeted it so far.
I'm going to continue to use Google+ and think about it. If you're over there already, you can find me here, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.