Hanging Out on Google Plus

Image Courtesy of xkcd.com

I like being an early adopter – its the Geek in me. Sometimes its better than others. Sometimes it means you’ll get involved in an application or network that you like and use, but isn’t viable for the operators, landing it in the “deadpool”. Sometimes it means you engage in products or services that just don’t work very well for you (like Google Buzz and Google Wave) But sometimes it means you get a really fun and interesting experience. Google Plus has been that for me this past week.

I’ve played with circles, connected with new people, engaged in “hangouts” (Google+’s video-conferences) and generally had a blast talking with a lot of old friends and a bunch of new ones.  But I don’t really want to talk about the site in terms of its interface. There are plenty of people that are going to post about the site and provide tips and tricks for using it. Since the project is still in very limited release, I think we’ll wait a little while to do that here at SMMI. I also don’t  want to theorize about Google+ as a  Facebook killer or a substitute for Twitter. Facebook has a huge social graph, and they aren’t going to go away just because another social network gains popularity. What Plus might change, and very rapidly, is the way in which social network providers react and respond to  their users. Google seems to really have it right this time. And they seem to be very committed to generating a unified Google branded package for the consumer , announcing the re-branding of Blogger to Google Blogs and Picasa to Google Photos.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far. Google has a huge presence on their new network, with staff members interacting and responding to comments by the community. Their  responsiveness is personified by people like Christian Oestlien, the ads lead for the Google+ Project who posted yesterday “We have been watching Google+ take shape over the last week and we’ve seen some really great companies get involved. But frankly we know our product as it stands is not optimally suited to their needs. In fact, it was kind of an awkward moment for us when we asked Ford for his (or was it her?) gender!How users communicate with each other is different from how they communicate with brands, and we want to create an optimal experience for both. We have a great team of engineers actively building an amazing Google+ experience for businesses, and we will have something to show the world later this year.” explaining that businesses were not going to be present on Google+ until later this year when they feel they have ir right. That’s transparency.

Another favorite of mine is Chee Chaw, Engineering Director at Google who has been all over the Hangouts (Google+’s group video chats – an addictive way to …well,  hangout with your friends), He recently said “we, at google+ are passionate about bringing people together. and for us on hangouts it’s about really connecting small groups together face to face … bringing people together from around the world… and bringing them together in a new way. we all have a human need to connect and communicate. some find communicating in this world easier than others.”

While I liked these quotes, they were completely arbitrary choices on my part. There are lots of other people from Google interacting as participants on the network and creating relationships – for them selves and their company. They don’t pretend that every request will be honored or that their company will suddenly be run by the members of this new network, but they are listening and responding. I find myself really liking this style and these people, and by association the company that has put them together in a group – and that is to Google’s advantage as I decide where to spend my time. In a culture where transparency, engagement, and community are important, Google is demonstrating their understanding of that in a very real way.

Though the Facebook staff has not been historically as interactive, this week CEO Mark Zuckerburg (the most followed person on Google+ by the way with almost 45,000 people following him, though he has not posted a word on the site) announced their new group chats and video conferencing in a highly touted Facebook event. While these area good and important upgrades, that were certainly on Facebook’s schedule for sometime, I can’t help but feeling that the manner of the announcement, and the status of the announcer was at least in a small way a reaction to Google’s newest social initiative. If Google’s social style impacts Facebook and leads them into more social interaction, I believe the consumer is the beneficiary. And with two such smart, creative companies vying for our time, hopefully there will be  lots of new toys in the future for all of us to play with.

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