Can Google Plus Pass the Social Narcissistic Litmus test?

Heads Up: Being the weekend and all, I’ve taken the liberty of straying from enterprise-y stuff in this post.

There’s some excellent analysis on Google Plus out there. Even Twitter investor, Fred Wilson is rooting for a successful outcome and Chris Brogan has done a really good job summarizing every conceivable benefit. For me personally, Google Plus is a combination of Friendfeed, group messaging such as Beluga or Groupin, and Delicious. All absolutely indispensable social interaction metaphors for me. So I’m thrilled its here.

There’s also a lot of good commentary on the value of  Google Plus for the Enterprise from folks whose reasoning I respect. Personally, I don’t see Google doing this in any intentional way. Google really needs to get it’s act together on the consumer social web to protect it’s advertising turf and adapt it to the social web. Employee collaboration is far more nuanced and purpose driven for Circles to be all the rage, as is. Instead, expect existing Social Software companies to clone Plus features as they have done with Quora, Facebook Like and Activity Streams, etc. That said, small businesses will adapt Google Plus ad hoc.

On to what the consumer web and marketing departments expect….

Does Circles represent win/win/win here?

Chris Carfi lists solid customer touch point value propositions for Circles including Demand and Lead Gen, Marketing, Co Creation, etc., and I see Google paying attention to these way before thinking about enterprise collaboration. And Developers are starting to think this through as well.

Three constituencies need to be satisfied to make Google Plus a success:

  • A unique value proposition to participants such as you and me
  • Marketers trying to reach and engage with you and me
  • A scalable social advertising model for Google and its Shareholders.

There’s no question that the monetization opportunity for Google is huge. What’s simple +Circles to you and me can be the gift that keeps on giving to Google Adsense. They have us by the tender parts when it comes to monitoring our search. Now they get a shot at showing ads based on our self declared social and professional interests and unlike search, for as long as the conversation continues. Add that to the existing interest profile that Google already has on us based on our private emails, calendars, searches and maps and you get a sense of the larger picture.

But I really do wonder how Google+ will mushroom in the way it needs to, in order to attain critical mass. To do that it needs to understand the certain level of good and bad narcissism that exists on the social web. Whether we like it or not, the I/Me/Myself web plays a big role in the social web. Many abuse it by incessantly talking about themselves. But many also use it wisely by providing great information.

Thwarting Broadcast

The most successful use case for Twitter has actually been broadcast, not social. And it seems to be working. Whilst we might complain that Oprah, with her 6 million+ followers, breaks the spirit of social networking by following back only 33 people, its also important to note that 5.99999 million people happily follow here without any expectation that she will follow back. The question is, will Oprah or Proctor and Gamble, or Joe Biden get the same level of reach if conversations get fragmented inside Circles? What came in via one giant stream exposed to everyone (Twitter or Facebook Fan pages), now gets partitioned inside folders. To a large degree the network effect of creating engagement is significantly harder. Google Plus can do a lot to address this (Make Circles sharable for instance) but theres no question that those very blabber mouths that keep the majority of eye balls on social content are going to need some level of loud speaking capability to move the conversation over to Google Plus.

The In-bound Marketing Battleground

Some brands have done an excellent job of embracing inbound marketing to build trust – the kind where meaningful content is offered to generate discussion instead of spray and pray advertising and email marketing. Analytics company Kiss Metrics’ use of Twitter is a cornerstone example of how to do in-bound marketing.

The social web has been characterized by the 90-9-1 rule thus far where 90% are lurkers who are a large and extremely important constituency that gain information from source content as well as the conversations created by the remaining 10%. While they may not speak up, marketers can hardly afford to ignore them. With conversations fragmented, on one hand you can argue that the net volume of conversations each lurker sees will get reduced. On the other hand, they may see fewer conversations but more meaningful ones that matter to them. Better for them, better for brands looking for qualified leads from social conversations, and of course, better for Google’s targeting. But the question still remains: in-bound marketing relies on a large volume base to start with before honing in on qualified conversations; can Circles offer this facility? Of course Google can, but I don’t think the design today considers this strongly enough.

Dirty Interest Graphs

The first iteration of the social web was based around Places (think Geo Cities). The recent incarnation of the social web progressed from Places to People and saw exponential scale almost instantly (Facebook and MySpace). Circles on the other hand is less about places and people – its segmentation by our interests. But is it really?

Circles are messy in practical terms My first reaction when I signed on was "Great – I can break out my wider contact base into meaningful chunks”. Then I tried and failed for the most part. The thing is we have multiple conversations with each person. Take R ‘Ray’ Wang for instance: An insightful fellow enterprise tinkerer but also one of my most trusted sources when it comes to restaurant recommendations. I can’t really segment what Ray says and so the idea that my circles represent my segmented interests is not really accurate. Google needs to use its algorithmic magic to let me separate Ray’s discussions so my stream quality is preserved. Hard to do of course but really, price of entry for any social network that wants my mindshare for yet another tsumani of use generated content. Not  much of a concern for Google as it knows behavioral targeting, but as participants, we might lose patience if our circles can’t keep conversations separate.


One thing is for sure: For most users, there ‘s little to no room left for yet another general purpose social network and so Google needs to displace an existing property for many users by providing (as Hutch Carpenter describes) exponential value beyond easy and clever design which it has accomplished in my opinion.

Can Google Plus pass the good/bad narcissism litmus test? It can but I think the first iteration of design hasn’t really worked out all the kinks when it comes to balancing our niche interests (currently drowned out by fire hose social design)  with a sometimes terrible but important reality of the social web – successful federation of loud mouths, good or bad. The sooner they have this sorted out, the better their chances of realizing large scale participant and marketer transition.

As I said above, the early adopter in me is sold on the promise and I’m hooked. I think Google Plus can re-cast the definition of Social Networking all together. Now Google Plus needs to really deliver.

Update: Some comments popping up on where else but Google Plus, here. Blog comment syncing is another P1 feature Google needs to take on.

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Esteban Kolsky
Esteban Kolsky

I am baffled - other than describing new shiny beads in yet another social network -- what have we created? there is no discovery (or even basic search), no semantics, still mostly a broadcasting model, no integration, no businesses allowed, and the sharing tools (other than forcing you to use Google properties) really are non-existent.   shiny beads like hangouts, huddles, etc. mean almost nothing unless you can either bring everyone you want in (cannot do that yet, not sure if it will scale to that mass of people - technology is not on their favor for that), circles are one-way and (as you so wisely presented) just throw people, not content or personas into them. google jumped the gun with a pre-alpha version here, and this will hurt them in the long run.  users (even the ones in our echo chamber) don't have the patience to wait this out - even if google releases a new feature a week - after a few weeks of not getting the ones we want in it, we will move the next Quora, G+, or whatnot. seriously - what am i missing here? yet another social network demanding many hours of work to set it up, and all my content to thrown into it - with virtually zero value to me as a user (and i am not even john q public - they will not get the model now, or probably into the future -- if it lasts that long). ranting, i know - but also looking for answers.

William Mougayar
William Mougayar

Well said Sameer. This v1 of Google+ leaves a lot on the table. I wasn't particularly thrilled about the on-boarding process which was chaotic and dreadful at best. Why do I have to find all my contacts again and invite them one of one? Couldn't they give us an Import feature from existing social networks.  Google+ is messy right now. Streams are messy. FriendFeed was messy and not for everybody. Businesses are very productivity-sensitive. They will ponder the value of Google+ as is. I've commented yesterday that we now have 4 Social Networks to manage (LI, FB, Twitter & Google+) and a 5th one if you work for a large Co that has an internal one. It's getting time consuming.  Definitely the interest graph part was a miss with Google+. But why have this expectation that it G+ will solve everything? If you're a foodie afficionado (as I am & didn't know that @ray_wang:twitter  was), you rely on a small circle of trusted advisors on other foodie networks, some of which go by pseudo names for e.g. Look at the bewildering amount of spilled ink (or bits) on Google+. We quickly put together this curated portal on GooglePlus & accompanying feed @GoogleP_News:twitter 

Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel

Ha. Life would be infinitely more boring though.

George Barckley
George Barckley

Esteban, I'm having the same problem understanding their SN mission. I believe Google is a very innovative company but it seems they are continuing to swing at the SN'ing fences yet again. Personally, I'm not seeing the WOW. I would expect a different take on status streams, groups, profile integration; features that every SN platform has. Even my Social Business service,, supports those basics. With their money and talent I would love to see some innovation moving from status streams and more inline with social knowledge discovery. Twitter is by far the best example I can give but Like Sameer said, its very primitive and as you mention G+ has to be built from the ground up and in my marketing efforts I hear more people say "I don't want to push another button". Google has access to the information through their defact-o search. They just need to come up with a very cool user experience that simplifies their ability to bring it social.

Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel

Your assessment is no surprising at all - very valid points in my opinion.  Its no doubt in Shiny Mode at the moment and -far- from guaranteed success but Im hopeful for the following reasons: 1. I really don't love the social networking options available to date. They are all good enough. Twitter sucks when it comes to conversations - we've just gotten used to it. I like the all encompassing potential of G+ but they will have to play nice with other networks. There's definitely no room for yet another network. 2. Threaded, topical discussions is why I fell in love with Friendfeed. I see that here and want it to succeed 3. I'm not ready to declare failure given the missing features. I think opening it up to a few whilst they roll out all of the features was smart. The feedback they have received before a formal GA must be gold. That said, serious features are missing for a full blown V1 release, especially mobile, and its very risky. To wean people off Facebook is going to take a lot of work. Though I will say this: Facebook may have 750 million people in total but I have 2X more contacts in my address book than I do Facebook friends. If Google does create that all encompassing network and do what it does best (aggregation), it can change the messy interaction model that we have come to call social networking. And I think there's room for that. 

Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel

Time will tell. Im more intrigued by the promise of G+ than the current feature set. I  don't see this as an enterprise play other than brand/marketing - the same customer Google sells Ad Sense to. But there's lots here for Social Software Vendors to think about. Thanks for the comment.

Esteban Kolsky
Esteban Kolsky

I agree with you on all points - except for one: Google+ was built by engineers, for engineers (or techies).  I may be mistaken and they may have 1,000,000 people working on a better interface and concept - but my sister (Scoble already used his mom, so I won't) and her teenage daughter will not flock to G+ anytime soon -- even if it's open. there is the old adage of serving too many masters, and this is what G+ is trying to do: find a market, focus on it, and succeed --- that is what FB did (yes, at the end of the day - FB is not for business and probably will never be a good place for business).

Sameer Patel
Sameer Patel

I suspect this is more Twitters problem than it is Facebooks. For the average person, Twitter just looks like everyone is shouting over each others voice and therefore, it serves much better as a broadcast mechanism.  I'm starting to see a new place for 'acquaintance + network conversations" - that could be Twitter but that could be G+. Its there for the taking - even if you see the kinds of convos you and I have on FB vs Twitter, they do differ wildly. I see the ones we have on Twitter up for grabs. Not the kind we have on FB.  Either way, its too early to tell. This could fall flat on its face as I think you are suggesting. I just prefer it as an interaction metaphor compared to Twitter. 

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