Will Google+ finally turn the search giant social?

Some time ago, when the Web was first emerging as a transformational force for business, the CIO of our company envisaged a tsunami wave that could overwhelm companies who didn’t recognise the impact of the change. Google didn’t exist then. But a year or two later, as the quantity of information available online exploded, the new effectiveness of their search strategies became part of what made the Web usable.

When the telephone was invented, people thought it would be used to broadcast concerts and church services. But this, and every network technology from then on, has been taken over as a medium for social communication. The Web is no different. Yes, search and online commerce and enterprise operations are all there. But social computing is the big one. And somehow Google has never quite made it in that space; think Open Social, the attempt to create a single transferable identity; or Google Wave, aiming to re-invent email. The “place to be” is Facebook (or, in the professional space, LinkedIn) and Google doesn’t have a stake there.

So the fairly muted announcements of Google Plus, this week, have been greeted mainly with a “wait and see” response from commentators and from the press pundits. Partly because, at the moment, Plus is available only on a limited trial released to those same pundits. And partly because the project – apparently codenamed Emerald Sea – is much wider than what’s been released so far. Google are aiming for a slow feed, this time, rather than a razzmatazz announcement.

From the reviews (I haven’t seen the real product) it does look as if Plus has taken some of the Facebook thinking back to first base. It provides an easy ability to organise your network into different “circles” with a clean visual interface (“Drag people to your circles to follow and share”). Jason Hiner, in TechRepublic, picks on this straight away as a vast improvement over both Facebook and Twitter; not all your feeds need go to all your friends, which makes a lot of sense. And some of your Circles can be two way (mutual follow, like Facebook) while others can be one-way (Twitter).

In the longer term, Hiner sees Plus in a different arena to Facebook or Twitter. He reminds us that Google’s goal is about “making the world’s information accessible and useful”, so social information helps search deliver effective results. Hence Plus will not be a “walled garden” like Facebook, but will need to extend across the Web. He sees it operating across everyone else’s websites: not so much a service you “go to” as one that turns up as an overlay on everything you do. You need to read down the review to find this vision, but it’s worth thinking about.

Read the Google Blog post (and perhaps watch its several embedded videos) alongside Hiner’s review. Envisage the possibilities – for business personal interactions as well as personal personal ones. Gartner have a short more formal note out, which (at the moment at least) is accessible to those with guest accounts on gartner.com. But its recommendations are targetted at other providers in this space, not at consumers. There’s more information in the news articles or Google’s own information. But those who are thinking business might want to look at Zachary Reiss-Davis’s discussion thread in the Forrester Community: his take is that “For B2B marketers, I think you should join it, and experiment with it, simply to see what the new tool is, and how you can potentially use it to collaborate with your your peers and colleagues, as its privacy settings (via circles) are extremely well done.”

And just a footnote. This week’s events in UK journalism have reminded us that the tsunami you don’t see coming can wipe out a major brand overnight. What happened to the News of the World is, in those terms, the same as happened to Lehman Brothers. And it doesn’t have to be through malfeasance. Not seeing the way the world is going can have the same effect. Google seems to have seen the social tsunami coming. Will Plus enable them to ride it?

• The Google+ Project, Google
• Introducing the Google+ project: Real-life sharing, rethought for the web, Google Blog, 28 Jun 2011
• Why Google Plus is about to change the Web as we know it, Jason Hiner, Tech Republic, 5 Jul 2011
• Inside Google+ — How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social, Wired Epicenter, 28 Jun 2011; thanks to Euan Semple for this link
• Experimenting with Google+ personally? Want to? Early thoughts? Zachary Reiss-Davis, Forrester Community, 20 Jun 2011
• Google+ Shows Google Has Learned From Previous Social Networking Efforts, Gartner, 1 Jul 2011 (if this link doesn’t work, search for document reference G00214687)

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