I am writing this column in India, where I am on a working vacation which includes giving talks about social and digital media in various cities.
The Indian media scene is fascinating, with newspapers thriving (a city like Mumbai has more than 10 English dailies, including 6 business dailies) and all-news networks growing (more than 50, including at least five business channels). I might share some lessons for the US media in a future column.
But today, I want to revisit Google Plus, the new social network that has been getting a lot of attention since its launch a couple of weeks ago. After writing about its start, I had planned to wait a month or so to comment on it further, but am back because of the amount of buzz (an unfortunate reference to the failed Google Buzz, I know) and fuss people are making about it.
In my first column, Eight Quick Thoughts on Google Plus, I wrote about some of the features worth noting, including Circles (the ability to label your connections and share content with specific cohorts of folks) and Hangouts (group video chatting). These features are being discussed widely, and in some circles (sorry, another Google pun), there’s much hype about how they can change our digital lives.
Here’s my list of what I’ve noticed in the past two weeks (though traveling through India means not being able to use it as much as I should/would have liked to — make no mistake, Google Plus takes work!).
• It’s easier to get a Google Plus invite. I wrote “My suggestion to Google would be to open it up as fast as it possibly can (how about letting each user invite 100 people they know, like in Gmail's early days) so that it can capitalize on the interest and curiosity.” And that’s exactly what’s happened (not because of my suggestion, of course). There are definitely people you know, or people who know people you know, who have Plus accounts and they can invite you via email to join. If you are totally stuck, feel free to tweet at me (@sree) or post on my Facebook Page wall with your email address and I will send you and invite in a couple of days.
• Google Plus has a better shot at success than many expected. Thanks to Google’s past social failures (Orkut, Buzz, Wave), it’s a pleasant surprise to see the mostly positive reaction that it’s had so far. It’s clear that Google has a much more careful, thoughtful and relevant approach this time around.
• Investors seem to like Google Plus. Writing in TechCrunch, Eric Shonfeld says $20 billion was added to Google’s market cap in the first days after it launched the new service, as investors think this is a way for Google to catch up with Facebook: How much is social worth to Google? Investors added $20 billion to Google’s market cap the first week after the launch of Google+ on June 28. A Morgan Stanley downgrade on Friday, brought the total down to $15.8 billion because of doubts whether Google will indeed be able to capitalize on new products such as Google+. But somewhere in between there, give or take a few billion, is how much more the market thinks Google is worth than before the launch of Google+.” Several observers have dismissed this analysis and the impact of Google Plus, but I do believe that Wall Street reacts positively to big companies trying to keep up with younger, hotter rivals.
• Techies love Google Plus. OK, make that most techies. My Google Plus account is filled with gushing comments from tech experts and early adopters. Many praise its ease of use and how it makes it easy to share content across many groups of people. Others praise its interface and design. Others seems to be happy just to have some place new to share their ideas. Mashable has a good round up of how 10 popular Google Plus users having been saying about the service.
• Facebook is paying attention to Google Plus. Mark Zuckerberg (whose profile simply says, “I make things”) has a Google Plus account - and has the most followers so far. It makes sense that Facebook’s creator is checking out the competition (read the response Mashable’s Ben Parr got from Zuckerberg about Google Plus). As Facebook preps for its IPO, it needs to show investors that it’s going to keep innovating and not go the way of MySpace, which once dominated social networking. While I think some of the current chatter about Facebook fatigue has some truth to it, I think the idea that Facebook (and it’s newly announced number of 750 million active users) is in trouble is exaggerated. It will adopt some of the best features of Google Plus and introduce other features in the months ahead. The recent launch of Facebook video chat via Skype shows that group video chatting, like Google’s Hangout, may not be too far away.
• Celebrities aren’t taking over Google Plus. Yet. Unlike the top 100 list of Twitter, which is dominated by the likes of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian (that’s the top five, in order), the top 100 list of Google Plus users isn’t filled with entertainers yet (the top five are Zuckerberg; Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin; and Vic Gundotra, who runs Google Plus). That’s because it’s just getting started. Once enough of their fans are on the service and the celebrities figure out that it’s another good way to get attention, you might see them arrive in hordes. But Rocky Agrawal, writing in TechCrunch, thinks Plus might not be what some celebrities, strapped for time, want: “The current Google+ interface would be less appealing to celebrities, because the interface is designed to invite conversation and engagement.”
• Bottomline, it’s still too early to predict how successful Google Plus will be. Two weeks is nothing in the life of a social network, and making predictions - glowing or otherwise - is foolish. Let me quote what I said two weeks ago:
The main question is going to be, do people want another social network? Even though millions of people are active Google users every day, using Google Plus means making a decision to actively participate in this new service. Consumers have invested their time and energy and attention on things like Facebook and Twitter and will now need to decide whether they want to add another to their toolkit.
Here are two comments from friends that capture why someone might find Plus appealing right away and why someone else might not.
From George: “Never got into [Facebook] since it was yet another site to check out. Got to be a chore. Since I use Google for email, contacts, calendar, photos, etc, I'm hoping there will be tight integration and using Google+ will kind of occur naturally.”
From Sanjay: “I like the way it works but... I can't see too many of my existing Facebook connections moving to this anytime soon. So I am wondering what will I use
this for... maybe more for professional reading etc as opposed to personal
What about you? Have you started using Google Plus? Will you add it to your toolkit? Post your comments below using your Facebook account or on Twitter @sree.
Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.