Friday, 15 July 2011

Rostradamus: Prediction II - Google+ Will Fail

In the first of my outlandish prophecies, I predicted that some day Google would own the world. In this second one, I guess I'm going to backtrack on that somewhat and predict that the new hyped darling of the internet, Google+, is going to be totally unsuccessful in its attempt to replace Facebook.

I will say, straight off the bat, that I've not actually used Google+. Primarily this is because I've been busy with other shit, but it's mostly down to the fact that it's still operating under an invite system and the majority of the people I know aren't using it yet. I honestly don't know why they're going with the invite system again, because they did it a year or so ago with Google Wave, which was an extremely innovative and useful service, and it completely flopped in comparison to how they'd expected it to go. Personally, I blame it's entire failure on the stupid exclusive invite system they used to launch it. It's good for raising hype, and maybe for ironing out issues in the beta stages before less tolerant users start trying it out, but ultimately it's not good for getting people to actually use the service. You're doing the exact opposite of that. People want to start using it, and you're saying "No, fuck off and go find a friend to let you in first".

For services that don't require you to interact with other people, such as Spotify, this is totally fine. But for stuff like Google Wave and Google+, it just doesn't work. I liked Google Wave, but pretty much everyone I would have actually used it to interact with didn't have it, and getting people to sign up through an invite-only system is a real pain in the arse. Google+ also suffers from the fact that it's not a particularly novel system - it's basically trying to replace Facebook. Why should people bother using Google+ with a small number of friends when they can use Facebook and everyone is there? Maybe if it's totally awesome, and clearly superior to Facebook, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I'm openly acknowledging here that I've never used Google+, and I'm doing that because it doesn't matter. For Google+ to displace Facebook, it would have to be substantially better, and from what I've heard from pretty much everyone I know who has used it, it's not that good. It has a few neat features, and it's +1 system seems to be a nice way to integrate it with the entire rest of the internet, but really, that doesn't seem to be a particularly brilliant incentive for your average joe to switch and start using it. That and most of the decent features will probably be stolen and implemented in Facebook by the time Google+ actually gets out of its invite-only phase.

If Google+ isn't even getting rave reviews enough to persuade me to bother with it over Facebook, then I can't see the majority of people swapping over. Aside from the faff of setting an account up, I have a lot of history, photos, old posts and the like all there on Facebook, that aren't going to be around on Google+. There's a proper commitment involved in switching over from Facebook (because really, I think people are unlikely to use both in the long run), and I don't think most people are going to be willing to commit that much.

Now a lot of people have pointed out to Facebook's obliteration of MySpace, and pointed out that at the time most people thought MySpace would be what everyone used for the rest of time, as it already had the critical mass to prevent itself from being dislodged. The thing is, while it had the mass, it wasn't the right type of mass, and some types are heavier than others (yes, I'm aware I'm totally ignoring physics for the sake of an analogy). When MySpace was popular its primary demographic consisted of teenage kids. Maybe a few older people, but mostly high-schoolers. High-schoolers are incredibly fickle. All high-school kids actually needed to move over to Facebook were a few gimmicks, something that appeared to be slightly better, and the notion that 'all the cool kids use Facebook'. Most of the people using MySpace were either nerds who would be keen to try out anything new on the internet, or dumbass teens who were too stupid to know any better.

Facebook has a far more solid userbase than high-school kids. Parents use Facebook. People who generally fear computers and the internet use Facebook. Nerds might be quick on the uptake of Google+, but are regular people, who have now become the main bulk of Facebook in a way that was never the case with MySpace, going to be so keen to switch over? Especially if it doesn't actually seem to be that much better? Personally I don't reckon it will happen (xkcd made the point that while Google+ had the disadvantage that your parents would never bother to switch over to it, it also had the advantage that your parents would never bother to switch over to it). There are too many pragmatic people who won't bother, and no matter which one you prefer, if half your friends from Facebook aren't actively on Google+, Facebook is probably going to remain the more attractive option.

Whilst it collectively it might be more convenient for everyone, and better for the functionality of the internet (given that everyone on the internet uses Google as their search engine except for complete weirdos), I just can't see the personal benefits of Google+ to be good enough for most people to switch. The invite system isn't helping that, but even without that I just think Facebook has too much staying power unless somebody comes up with something totally revolutionary, and from everything I've heard Google+ just doesn't seem to be that revolution.

On the topic of social networking, I've now got a Twitter account. I'm not sure to what extent I'll actually post tweets on it, because I've primarily picked it up to follow other people, but we'll see. If I have internet while touring Europe next month then it'll probably get a fair bit of use (as will this blog).

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