In defence of Google+

If you don’t understand why Google is the 2nd most active social network, you don’t understand what Google+ is. And it’s all your fault.

Since day 1 in June 2011, Google was very clear about the motivation behind its Emerald Sea project: build a better Google.

People like Danny Sullivan have spent their time fundamentally misunderstanding even the clearest explanations:

When I asked Gundotra how many people are using Google+, he deftly told me I was looking at it wrong. “You have to understand what Google+ is,” he said. “It’s really the unification of all of Google’s services, with a common social layer.”

No, we’re not looking at it wrong. Google is just refusing to answer the question for its own reasons — which is probably because Google+ has far less activity as a standalone social network than either Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps even less than Pinterest, for that matter.

Right. That’s one possibility. Or you are just not listening to the poor man. But you wouldn’t be the only one. Comparing numbers of G+ posts to Facebook posts or any other network does not make sense if you consider their goals.

The stream you see when you visit is not Google+. It’s simply where the actions you take across Google services manifest when shared. They may be shared to one person, they may be shared to a circle, they may be shared publicly. It’s the journey, not the destination.

But it’s not without its virtues. For example, anyone who has tried to tackle big topics in 140 char without either linking many tweets together or ending up being glib and superficial will appreciate the extra scope that comments on Google+ posts allow. Or even the basic simplicity of being able to +1 someone’s response (which everyone can see, vs relatively hidden Twitter favourites) and say more than a hollow thumbs up tweet.

Google+ is not a Facebook killer (as some journalists have started to twig). Google+ is Search, Youtube, Gmail, Maps, Drive, Android, Hangouts and more. Google+ starts as the layer that runs through all its products but the real goal is its extension through the web. This is where the Google Authorship markup strategy has been so ingenious. Never has anyone had such a compelling reason to integrate a new way to share into your site.

It’s this kind of thinking that is gradually helping Google+ become the widely distributed fabric that it intends. Google doesn’t need to beat social networks in quantity of shares or visits to the stream — or indeed almost all the other areas that businesses like Facebook and co. care about — to get value from this initiative.

Why is this important? For most people, it’s not and although it’s a shame I can’t share all my photos with my university friends anymore like I could on Facebook, I can live with that.

But if you work in marketing, PR, digital, social, search — whatever you want to call our converging industry today — and you’re patting yourself on the back as you joke about this ‘ghost town’, it might be time to wake up and smell the +1s. It’s part of our job to look past the surface to understand things and offer that knowledge to our clients. Keep up.

September 6th, 2013

Facebook should update its concept of ‘Friends’

With its IPO now public, Facebook is about to enter something of dark zone for announcements – a move which will no doubt leave a void for speculation and rumour among tech writers. So I thought I might jump the gun with a thought of my own: should Facebook replace “friends” with Likes?

Danny Whatmough and I were recently discussing how to balance the use of different social networks – what are they for and what do you post where? One thing that came up was Facebook and how the friends we had on there didn’t really reflect our current interests and every day any more. It had become almost a scrapbook of people from years and places past.


February 26th, 2012

The Age of Digital Inhibitions

There has been a lot of conversation in the last couple of years about online privacy. But I think actually there’s a bigger theme that it all plays into – for me, these years have been just as much about shifting digital inhibitions.

What does that mean? Let’s take a step back to get the full picture – how has technology helped people overcome their inhibitions to the point where they’re almost unaware of them and what’s that going to mean over time?


November 23rd, 2011