Google Plus: What Is It Really All About?

Most of you have likely found your way onto Google’s latest experiment in social media, Google Plus / Google+. I have been a member since the second week it was available for sign up, but have held off on making commentary here on Return On Now until I could better evaluate it.

Now that we have had several weeks to use and discuss Google+, it’s time to get in on the conversation.

First Impressions of Google+

The thing that immediately jumped out to me, like most of you, was the interesting implementation of circles rather than following in a one- or two-way fashion (a’la Twitter or Facebook). The ability to target postings to a specific circle is a great feature in concept, although it can be a bit cumbersome to use if you are very active on the site. Either way, it’s nice to have the flexibility.

The site comes with a built in +1 button on all posts, comments, and links. That’s great, especially now that Google has built the feature into their algorithm. Now, the +1 works a lot like the Facebook Like button for both liking and sharing. It’s a good thing they caught up on that one quickly.Google Plus / Google + Screen Shot

The Hangout feature looks interesting, but I haven’t used it much due to a lack of time to play around online. It’s probably cool for some purposes, perhaps virtual meet ups or even a round table, so I still need to find time to play with it.

The Photos tab is an interesting view the first time you view it, but not something I find myself ever drawn to click again. And they’ll have to beef up the games section quite a bit. It might be a unique way to play games, but selections are limited at this point in time, mostly titles you can get on an iPhone.

Overall, it’s interesting, but I still struggle to find the motivation to use it, even after several weeks.

Google Plus as a Social Tool

The biggest issue with Google+ is that it comes across more as a “social tool” than as a social network. Google is a analytical company who provides technical products / tools / services for a variety of purposes. Since they felt they had to “be social”, they have been dipping toes in the water for some time now (e.g. the failed Google Buzz experiment). So they built a tool that incorporates a lot of what you see and like on the leading social networks. And they tried to add additional structure to what has been a bit unstructured elsewhere.

I question whether Google understands what a community is. This is a vastly different animal than something like AdWords or Google Docs. Their communication has been sparse, which is a major issue for those who have been singled out by the Real Names Only rule. The kicker is that they simply group Google Plus with all their other services, and if they kick you off for using a fake name, they kick you off everything!

With so many of us drinking the “cloud” Kool-Aid, moving to Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365, this is a massive error on Google’s part. After all, if this is just a “project” as they have been calling it, why would our other services suffer if we are deemed unworthy for their community? This has not affected me since I always use my real name, but others have been burned badly in this fiasco. Sorry Google, but this is a perfect example of the word FAIL.

Google Plus for SEO and website traffic

I would be remiss without considering how Google+ might impact Search Engine Optimization. After all, we are talking about Google and their 90% market share in search.

One thing they are getting right is the +1 button. By making it easier to share on Google Plus from anywhere online, they get the outstanding effect that the Facebook Like button offers. Even more importantly, it gives the public a chance to voice positive votes for content, even with social sites linking as “nofollow“. This is a huge change, and one that should add a lot of value in social search.

In reality, I’m torn between whether Google Plus is truly an attempt at creating a social network or more about figuring out how to meld social data into search. I actually hope it is at least in part about the latter.

Regardless of their motivations, the market for social networks is already saturated. We have invested too much time in the frontrunners, and I am not seeing the social graph of the masses looking to move. Sure, the social media crowd has jumped on full speed ahead, but even among that group, opinions of Google+ range widely.

Final Thoughts

It will be interesting to see if Google figures it out, or if this becomes just another failed social experiment. Or perhaps it offers some unforeseen value for social search. Some of this could already be built into their search algorithm, and all the refinements we’ve seen over the past 6 months very well may represent them still trying to get it right.

What do you think? Is this a real attempt at being social, or a short term experiment to figure out how to meld social activity into SERPs?

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