October 14, 2014 - 15:50

Google(+) Restructuring Concept

What Google should REALLY do to improve, and to finally succeed with Google+

Scrolling through Google+, I recently came across an article entitled “How to improve Google+ immediately” by Casey Newton from The Verge. Thinking of how often my favorite social network had been called a ghost town or more lately even dead, I was actually very keen to get to know what “Google's head of social seems not to know, so [The Verge is] telling him” and began reading.

To put it in a nutshell, the article was a huge disappointment. While the first half was all about criticizing a recently published interview with new G+ head Dave Besbris (“1600 words saying nothing”), Newton went on proclaiming 3 ”things Google could do to improve its social-media standing more or less overnight”:

  • The first of those things was to split up Photos from Google+. Since there already have been plenty of rumors and leaks, I certainly wouldn’t call this something that Besbris “seems not to know”. Even more so, not mentioning those rumors with a single word, I’ll seriously go crazy once Google finally makes Photos independent and The Verge claims that they had advised them so.

  • Newton’s second idea was that Google should kill the circles feature because it would be "a nightmare" in practice, too complicated for new users and also not much anticipated by the few regular Google+ users. I personally make heavy use of circles, grouping people and pages that I follow into “Show everything”, “Show most”, etc. Even though I understand that it might be a bit complicated for new users, I’m pretty sure Google would mainly just anger old users, who've used circles since day one, while barely attracting that much more new ones. Alternatively, Google could rather simplify the registration process.

  • Lastly, Newton said he wants the Google Plus team to create more new and "weird stuff", which is apparently just as coarse as Besbris’ interview. I understand what he meant with these lines, kind like that the next big social media hit - the next Snapchat or Instagram - could as well randomly be made by some Google employees. While this might also be right to some degree - though Googlers famously already have (or had?) much time for this kind of things with their so-called “Innovation Time Off“ -, it's definitely nothing that would improve Google+ “immediately” or “overnight”, as initially claimed by Newton, but rather just a coarse and meaningless set phrase.

So all in all, Newton actually made no real point about what might actually improve or ‘save’ Google+. Instead, he proposed to cut it’s most characteristic feature (moving it closer towards a Google-branded Facebook) without concretely naming anything other to add or change to get people switch there.

But regardless of how bad and thoughtless this article was, it got me thinking myself about what might make Google+ a better, or rather a more successful service.

Setting the course for Google+ as a social network only
Restructuring the Google universe

As already mentioned, it’s totally clear that Photos will become an independent service very soon. So while losing it’s most anticipated and praised feature, Google+ should become what Google always claimed it isn’t: simply a social network.

To achieve this, Google should stop abusing Google+ as the companies “social backbone”. It was a clever and privacy-friendly idea to give users the choice whether to create this new Google-wide profile and account, but it did not work out as planned, and since Google+ has dropped it’s real names policy a few months ago, there’s actually not a single reason anymore to not to just require all registered users to set up a new (service-independent) profile, which Google services like Google+, YouTube or Google Play access then.

From a privacy point of view, this might sound very controversial at first, with a big backlash being inevitable. But without any naming policy, an user would (or should) even be able to just leave the name on his profile blanket. These new “Google Profiles” would be managed within the settings. I don’t think that the same profile info should be shown on every service with support for profiles, but rather that this main Google Profile collects all info from the individual networks, and gives the option to make certain parts the same everywhere. One user might want to have the exact same profile on YouTube, Google Plus and Google Play, another one might want to have everything the same except to write an individual text on YouTube under “About Me”, and yet another might want to set up completely different profiles on every service, including his profile picture and name.

The actual concept
Meanwhile, the non-social-backbone Google+ should be focused on three big key areas:

  • Public stories and discussions - the service has been great at this since it’s beginning, and the introduction of Communities actually managed to boost this strength even more. Maybe kind like a more worked out Twitter, Google+ is the perfect place for public discussions about trending topics, and for connecting with people with similar interests.

  • Personal shares and conversations - especially because most of your friends are still over at Facebook, Google+ has mostly been much weaker at this than at public discussions. Nevertheless, private conversations should stay a key feature, being a significant and important tool to bind users for a longer period of time. While public discussions would be supposed to gain new users, this could be seen as a subsequent phase.

  • Professional and enterprise uses - not only does Google+ offer a great and easy way for companies to organize and communicate with their employees, but communities for help & support, feedback and beta tests have been a great side effect allowing firms to greatly interact with their customers on a very unique basis.

Thanks to Android, hundred millions of users all over the world already have Google+ pre-installed, and Google should finally take real use of this. Currently, if someone opens the Google+ app - maybe per accident or because of curiosity - he is halted by a characterless screen-filling sign in page. Google+ already has a bad reputation because of all this login stuff, and for a new user this login screen might just be a verification and the reason to leave the app again.

Instead, Google+ could act more like YouTube, giving the user the possibility to discover it’s advantages and greatness without the direct need to sign up first. Of course Google+ and YouTube are very different services, but the concept could certainly be applied anyway. While this might not work for most social networks, Google+ is a very underestimated service, with an overwhelming user experience, that could be capable to convince users to voluntarily sign up permanently after testing it for a while.

The main question would be to what degree people could use Google+ without having to sign up. I initially only thought about allowing users to set up circles locally and let them discover interesting posts. Thinking a bit more about this idea, however, I came to the conclusion that it has far more potential, and that going for a wider implementation would be better. Anonymous using could become THE killer feature of Google+.

Introducing anonymity to lead Google+ finally to more success

What I mean is that users should even be able to for example leave comments on posts without being signed in. Google has long been known for making all of it's services free, and most of them also free to use for unregistered users. In the social network market, no one has yet done something like this. Especially keeping in mind that 500 million Android users all over the world have Google+ pre-installed, it seems the best option for Google to go this risky step: 500 million people would be just 1 tap away of being in midst of Google+, compared to about 5-10 steps needed to install and sign up on any other social network.

Anonymous using would mostly rely on the first of the three key areas listed earlier: public discussions. One of the things that make discussions on Google+ that great is their high level of quality. To prevent this quality from suffering - and to remain a few reasons to still sign up -, anonymous comments would be moved outside of the spotlight. They could for example be stacked and hidden behind an additional button at the beginning or the end of the regular comments.

This does not mean that anonymous users will also only see anonymous comments, but everyone sees the same comments by registered users first, and if one wants to post a comment there himself, directly interacting with the others, he’ll have to sign up.

At the end, maybe even registered users could get the possibility to post comments anonymously if they want to. It would be like the dirty, YouTube-esque back of Google+. In the foreground, discussions would obtain their rich level of quality, while clicking on a button would reveal what people say anonymously. Of course a poster would be able to also moderate this part of his post with Google+'s much anticipated moderating tools (though perhaps not as strictly as the real comments). Ultimately, some of the more harmless moderated stuff from the regular comments, like for example spam, could also be moved to the anonymous comments section.

(By the way, this would also be the ideal solution to how YouTube should function.)

So all in all, the main reasons to still sign up and create a real Google+ account would be:

  • Being allowed to publish own posts

  • Being able to set up a profile

  • Being able to save circles and similar stuff across devices

  • Getting more attention for your comments and being able to look back at your past comments

  • Getting more credit as a person if you make a good comment

  • Getting fully in touch with people who have similar interests

  • Being able to benefit from the second and third of the key areas listed earlier; private shares, messaging and enterprise uses.

  • And of course getting rid of the annoying bar that takes much space of your screen to tell you to sign up

I’m personally pretty convinced by this concept. Implementing it right, it would certainly be a lot work for the Google+ team, but within the interview, Besbris also stated that his team hasn’t been shrunken, but that “[we’re] the largest we’ve ever been”. So if he says the truth, this team is certainly capable to accomplish that - also in between all the work that might also has to be done at the same time to split up the Photos and for any other, maybe yet unannounced projects.

Further thoughts

Nevertheless, Google+ still has a rather bad reputation. While the just explained update might result in success anyway, for the greatest possible success, Google would probably have to also invest in a variety of other fields.

On the one hand side, Google could for example advertise “the new Google+”. Ads could emphasize the privacy features, that Google has learned from their “mistakes” (in the context of the requirement of a Google+ profile to post comments on YouTube), and ultimately that everyone with an Android device can check it out right now without having to sign up, and also Apple users can quickly install and test it anonymously now.

Moreover, Google could also use their own services to promote the new Google+. The aim is to simply get the user inside of the app. The easiest and most obvious way to do this would be to for example add a few Google+ posts to Google Now. Google already has a good understanding of the user, and why shouldn't they also deliver appropriate stories from Google+? That's the great advantage of not having a sign in barrier anymore.

Summing everything up, the introduction of anonymity would have three major advantages for Google:

  • It’s an interesting new feature improving the network overall, and everyone interested could quickly try it out himself

  • It would tear down the sign up barrier, which especially on Android would lead to a massive advantage for Google over other networks

  • It would greatly improve Google+’s reputation since it’s basically the entire opposite of the previous you need Google+ to use other services thing

What's your opinion? Do you think anonymity would improve Google+? Would it make the network that much more successful? Have you personally ever used Google+ up to now?


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October 14, 2014 - 15:50

Google(+) Restructuring Concept

What Google should REALLY do to improve, and to finally succeed with Google+

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