Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Google+

Like all things in life, you can only amass a certain amount of success before you become resented and targeted. I suppose it's not all bad. After all, our country was built on the idea of economic competition.

And so we see ourselves facing the latest realization of the Google Empire's sense of Manifest Destiny. While other social networks have taken on Facebook by taking a page from Zuckerberg's own playbook -- building from a nucleus of tight-knit, like-minded individuals into the defining global unifier -- Google has decided instead to amass world domination overnight and have put exhaustive resources into spreading the tentacles of their new creation.

Their hubris may, however, prove to be their demise. As one writer said of Google, "Social networks grow LIKE trees, not on them." Logging onto G+, one finds a rather overtly innocuous interface with about as much pizazz as rice pudding.

One of the most notable differences between G+ and Facebook is Google's use of "circles," a grouping mechanism that mandates users separate their contacts into such criteria as friends, family, acquaintances etc. With such a setup, users can direct their posts to the world at large or to specific segments of their online universe. To me, however, this proves to be little more than a nifty parlour trick, much like the expensive knives you see on TV that can slice meat thin enough to read through it. It's a neat gimmick, but I'm not sure when I'd ever use it.

Google-amorists have been quick to tout Circles as their banner of magnificence. I, personally, operate under the digital philosophy of what I wouldn't want my mother to hear, I shouldn't say online. I see circles becoming a crutch where co-eds think they're posting safely to friends only to get a voicemail from home asking what they meant on Tuesday at 12:30 when they said they were "too schwasted to function."

What is truly Google's strong point is it's own size. As more and more people join the Gmail universe and load their smartphones with the wide array of google products the idea of one-stop shopping becomes appealing. Think of G+, then, as the Walmart of the World Wide Web.

Ultimately, Google's arrival is enormously underwhelming. In it's effort to differentiate from the big boy on campus Google has created a program that is aesthetically ugly and simple to a fault. Looking at my Facebook page, without scrolling I see 6 posts from friends, including videos, photos and text. A glance at my G+ shows 2. Icons are too large, photos too bulky, and the lump effect is a web page that does not capture the attention.

Where Google ultimately fails, however, is its attempt to be all things in one. One apologist wrote about the "revolutionary" way in which Google's circles can be utilized to make a user's account a blog, social network page, twitter feed, email, even Christmas card to mommy. It's a nice theory, but I like that Wood's Stock has it's own look, one that I control and not what some suits in Silicon Valley have work shopped for me and everyone else.

As the movie Social Network points out, Facebook is meant to make digital the entire spectrum of social life, to effectively allow us to "reside" on the internet. G+, in it's effort to be more than just another facebook has abandoned this philosophy and has gutted out the emotional experience in lieu of pure, vulcan, logic and efficiency.

Direct messaging is bulky and nearly non-existent. A sense of identity is all but abolished. Instead of the intuitive "liking" a posts, we have "+1-ing" which is as robotic as it is grammatical nonsense. When I like something, I like to "like" it. I don't know what "+1" means and I'm still not entirely sure what it does.

In the end, it doesn't matter. You can unveil all the tricky new software you want but with social networking the program is not the product, the people are. Facebook reigns supreme because of sheer number of users. When/if the day domes that all 503 of my friends migrate to Google I will as well because if Mark Zuckerberg has proven anything, it's that people will use whatever everyone else is using. With Google being the challenger, the burden of proof lies with them. It is not enough to be simply good, it must be better. And simply, Google is not. F


  1. Ben, google+ is in its beta stage, which means it is currently in development. Sure Facebook is "not finished" but it was somewhat of a finished product before it went online to the masses. For something trying to be as innovative as Google+ is, they need time and a bounty of user input to perfect their product. They have only had three weeks. Sure you can give them an F now, but they will improve. Sure the +1 thing is annoying, but they surely couldn't use "like" or Marky Z would sue their butts. I think they are doing a pretty good job at being an alternative to Facebook just like Google's Android phones are an alternative to the iPhone. Sure they are probably trying to take over the social networking world, and they will fail. But, they will provide a viable alternative for all those Google worshipers out there. In its current state, C+

  2. A program in Beta is like a pre-screaning of Spiderman: Turn of the Dark. They both suck. I stand by my F.
    What you said about +1 is exactly right, except in my world if you can't be different AND be good, then don't bother being different at all.

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  4. Ben I love reading your blog. It's so informative. I really don't mean to live in a bubble- and it's people like you that help me learn about what's going on "outside." :)