I’ve written about Google+ a few times before, mostly in a critical sense. I do believe that the site is over-hyped for what it is, and it has a long way to go before it’s competing with the likes of Twitter and Facebook on level ground. But rather than continue to berate it, I’m instead going to list the things that I feel it has to do be able to compete effectively.
1. A strong, open API
Google+ didn’t launch with an API, and to me this was a massive mistake. Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare are examples of two successful services which had an API from very early on, which allowed developers to build all sorts of clients and services on those platforms. This is why almost every smartphone has a Twitter client of some sort, and why you can get your data in and out of Flickr very easily. Google+ is due to get an API very soon, but right now you can only input information on the Google+ web site or using an official iPhone or Android app. There’s nothing for Blackberry or Windows Phone, as far as I am aware. Moreover, it’s hard to get your data out of the service in a piecemeal form, whereas there are no end of services that will take your ‘social graph’ (i.e. your list of friends) and your data from Twitter and Facebook and let you do things with it.
2. Better friend management
I’m generally impressed with Google+’s ‘circles’ and it’s no surprise that Facebook has rushed to emulate it. Unfortunately there’s no way to ‘mute’ people whilst keeping them in your circles. This is important to me as right now one friend dominates my stream and posts things that don’t interest me, but the only options I have are to mute individual posts, remove him from my circles or block him. Facebook allows you to be friends with people, but have them hidden from your news feed. This means you’re not hurting their feelings by un-friending them but don’t have to be bombarded with irrelevant posts that don’t interest you.
3. Appeal to the younger generation
Facebook is very popular with younger people, i.e. those in their late teens. Looking at my Google+ friends, the majority are in their late twenties or older. Facebook caters well for younger people by being available on Blackberry phones – they’re cheap and available on pre-pay tarrifs, unlike the iPhone and many Android handsets. It’s notable that the recent London riots were organised using Blackberry Messenger. Google+ has a poor presence on Blackberry – the mobile version of the web site works but there’s no native app. They also need to be more flexible about their naming policy and provide more games – although the games there are of good quality, 16 is a bit low. If Google+ can’t pull in younger people then it may become irrelevant like Bebo and Myspace when the younger groups left for Facebook.
4. Be able to focus the default stream on particular circles
I have a few circles, namely ‘close friends’, ‘acquaintances’ and people I know from Warcraft and Foursquare. Some of those I care about more than others, and Google+ defaults to showing everyone in the Stream. You can select a specific circle to view at a time, but I’d like to limit who I see in the Stream to people I follow and friends, for example. This links in with ‘better friend management’ – reducing the amount of noise that some over zealous friends produce.
5. Allow brands to have a presence
Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find any major brands without an official Facebook or Twitter presence. In fact, some small businesses use these in lieu of an actual web site, as it doesn’t cost anything and may even give them a wider reach. Google+ does not allow ‘non-people’ to sign up – you can be a person who works for a brand, but you can’t be a brand. There needs to be a feature like Facebook Pages which lets brands have an official presence there.
6. Events support
Facebook lets you create events to organise social gatherings, as well as to promote events such as theatre productions, club nights and gigs for bands. Google+ doesn’t, which is silly because Google has a really good Calendar application. There really should be better integration, such that you can create an event which appears on your Google Calendar, and invite your friends from Google+ to it without needing their email address; or being able to invite a whole circle.
Again, surely a no-brainer, but there appears to be no private chat or messaging system. You can’t send messages to friends – instead you have to know their email address and use Gmail, and there’s no integration with Google Talk so you can’t start an instant message conversation with them. Google+ does have support for ‘hangouts’ but this is for multimedia chat with a webcam and microphone and not instant messaging. Facebook offers these, and even Twitter lets you send direct messages.
8. Better integration of +1s and Buzz
Google have included its ‘+1’ button and the Google Buzz service in Google+, but they’re not fully integrated.
If you +1 a page on a web site, it won’t show in your friends’ streams, but only on a separate tab on your profile; ditto with anything picked up by Buzz. Maybe this was to reduce the noise coming into Google+ but it seems disjointed, and devalues the +1 button. On a related note you may notice that I removed the +1 buttons from this site as, as far as I can tell, no-one actually clicked on them, unlike the Facebook ‘Like’ button and the Tweet button.
So these are my suggestions. Quite a few are simply integrating Google’s existing products into Google+ – if Google+ forms Google’s new strategy then it needs to position it better to gain from its other services. But it also needs to reach some parity of features with Facebook if it’s to pull people over – right now, it only manages the basics.