Has Google+ Been the Master Plan All Along?

Google’s forays into the social media space have been well documented on this blog, particularly +1 and Google Buzz. I’ve tended to equate the search giant’s social efforts to the marketing person who wants to do social media just because its the hot thing. Poking around the available information on Google+ over the past week has me reconsidering that point of view.

For starters, Google+ looks cool. Take a tour through these YouTube videos to see for yourself. The interface is very ‘Google’ – minimalist with lots of white space. Google+ comes to the social game quite late. It has a distinct advantages, however, that make me wonder if all of these bumps in the road were actually a part of the master plan.

The first advantage is the opportunity for integration. Google’s existing properties and projects weave themselves nicely into a social environment. Search for something and then +1 it on Google. Pictures from Picasa, posts from Blogger and videos from YouTube create further touch points. This idea is nothing new. Users can accomplish all of this today through Facebook or Twitter, but now Google has an end-to-end social sharing solution. They’ve even quietly announced that they’ll re-brand Picasa and Blogger to carry the Google name.

Google+ seems to have hit on a critical idea that has been an afterthought for other social sites: people want to exert control over the things that they share. People don’t have just one group of friends; they have many groups (and subgroups) of friends. You may not want your coworkers to see those photos from your Friday night adventure with your old college buddies, and maybe those college buddies have no interest in reading your posts about the latest news in your industry. Sure, you can accomplish that level of control with Facebook lists or multiple, protected Twitter feeds, but there is no smooth way to make these differentiations. Sharing something with only a few of your friends through Circles appears to be front and center with Google+. Add in some intriguing new features like Hangouts and Spark (while subtracting some annoyances like Farmville-type applications), and suddenly Google+ is worth a try.

Getting people to leave a site like Facebook, with its 750 million+ users worldwide, is going to be a big challenge, but Google seems to have used the time it spent being late to the party on developing a pretty compelling offering.

Scott Ensign, Digital Planner & Channel Integration Specialist

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