Walled-Garden vs Open Range
The mentality at Facebook has been very clear for years. They want to turn Facebook into the only place you need to go. They want businesses to create pages and apps that will allow people to handle all of their transactions and maintenance items on the platform. They want users to be able to explore, share, and integrate their daily lives into Facebook. They want to make sure that you have no reason to leave the site.
Google+ is taking the exact opposite approach. They are taking their vast wealth of data and understanding surrounding the billions of web pages out there and use presenting it in ways that they’ve never done before. They want people to leave the platform to find what they need, then have an easy way to come right back.
When asked about a Google Plus API, Google’s Joseph Smarr said the following tonight on the site itself. “Of course, and we’re eager to make the social graph a ‘two-way street’ where you can use your circles to quickly get up-and-running on a new site, but also make new friends on that site and add them to your circles. Lots of details to work through, but the best way to do it is with good agile partners building cool social experiences. ;)”
On the surface, this seems an awful lot like Facebook Connect. In reality, the two services will share basic functionality but the intentions will be completely different. Facebook wants to pull you in. They are a gravitational force that wants to be everywhere and offer everything to everyone. They’ve done a tremendous job so far, but they have a flaw in that there is rarely a reason for people to go to Facebook for reasons other than friends and family.
Businesses, organizations, and publications are able to “pull” a tremendous amount of likes and interest through Facebook, but that interest dies very quickly. People may like a page, but if they don’t interact with that page, chances are slim that they will ever get to actually see anything happening there or on their feed. We almost never go back to a Facebook page once we’ve liked it and we stop seeing it in our feed once we go a period of time without liking or commenting on their posts.
Google+ doesn’t want to pull anyone into a walled-garden the way Facebook wants. Instead, they want to go with us wherever we go. It’s subtle, but it’s clear. Facebook is saying, “come do what you need to do here,” while Google+ is saying, ‘take us with you and let us help you with what you need to do wherever you need to do it.”
An entire post can be written on this aspect and I know I’m not doing it justice. I’ll answer questions about this aspect in comments.
The Road To Failure
If you want to break down why Google has failed at so many ventures, particularly in social, it comes down to one statement.
“You can’t do so much and tell so few.”
Wave may have been a debacle, but it didn’t have to be. The lack of communication and marketing surrounding it was abysmal. Anyone who tried it likely had a hard time understanding what it could do, what it was for, and why they needed it. When they tried to learn more, they were often pushed to blogs and non-Google properties where the writers were often just as confused as the rest of us.
The original Nexus phone suffered the same fate. Google thought, “If we build it, they will come.” They didn’t. It never got more than initial buzz and faded into obscurity quickly.
If Google does not take a page from the Apple marketing machine and blast Google+ out there with the same conviction and clever promotion that Apple does with most of their launches, the “Facebook Killer” of 2011 will die a quick death. It’s their last shot. If Google cannot make this work, they are done with social media for the foreseeable future.
I’m a skeptic when it comes to Google. I do not believe that they know how to be aggressive when it comes to marketing. I do not believe they are willing to wield the tremendous weapons they’ve had at their disposal for years because they have failed to do so. Now is not the time to be humble. Now is not the time to be fair. They have the ability through search and YouTube to take control of social media, but even that wouldn’t be aggressive enough.
They will have to spend money. Lots of it.
- Hit television in ways that would make Microsoft cringe
- Use email with the mastery that Apple has done over the years
- Promote through the user base with valid reasons for them to get their friends and family engaged
- Attack Facebook. Yes, attack Facebook. Because Facebook will definitely be attacking them
- Leverage relationships with corporations, governments, and media outlets to integrate Google+ into their affairs
- Generate more positive buzz on blogs and websites of all sizes than they’ve ever (never, actually) done before
This is it. All hands on deck. They need to get the people to join and use at a rate never seen before. Why? Because they’re so far behind. We, the people, are already using Facebook. We will follow the crowd if the crowd shifts to Google+, but the crowd has to be massive. If not, it will simply be another Google failure.
They’re heading in the right direction. Earlier, we noted that they aren’t talking about business applications of their Google+ services. They have plans, but right now all of the practical business uses for the service are worthless without hundreds of millions of users. It’s that simple, and that’s why we haven’t heard anything about (and won’t for a while).
There are many reasons while Google+ will succeed, but this one reason for failure is a big one. They have not demonstrated over the years the willingness to roll up their sleeves, take their gloves off, and fight like there’s no tomorrow. Until they do so, I’ll remain a (hopeful) skeptic.