Wednesday, March 14, 2012

G+ Ultra

The +1 button to the right of this post, and all posts on the blog, is a key forged by the Knights and Wizards within Google Towers to open up a world of sharing. This is the Internet as never imagined before - find a page you like, share it, have your recommendation shared by other people and...

No, wait. What on earth has Google designed? It's as though someone has suggested breakfast can be improved by filling a kettle with water, tea bags and eggs. Reinventing the concept of 'social media' misunderstands how users already co-operate. Links can be sent through Twitter, message boards and CoverItLive style chat rooms hours before anyone has considered logging onto Facebook; indeed, popular over-use of 'share it' buttons is more likely to put users off doing the thing they were designed to encourage. Memo to local newspaper website designers, allowing causal readers to click "HTML Validator", "Global Grind", "MySpace" and approximately 150 other services suggest you have little to nil idea about leading people towards functional constructive sharing.

Google is acting very proud about Google+, the service it likes to pretend is a new alternative to 'social media'. Unfortunately, our little minds have been befuddled by Google's brilliance, because we're having to be warned against using G+ incorrectly. When a company allows this to be uttered in public, you know something is wrong.

And what is wrong is more than just Google's attitude. From the misguided launch to obscure concept description, G+ limps along with all the curiosity factor of banknotes made from cheese. For what reasons are we supposed to migrate to G+? To share content with the kinds of strangers who are friends we haven't met? To show our current Facebook friends how good we are at transferring lists into circles?

Is Google+ supposed to be "LinkedIn meets Facebook", or "Googlepedia, the search engine anyone can edit"?.  If it's the former, then Google has been spectacularly bad at explaining their work. Maybe someone needs to show them how Twitter and Pinterest attracted millions of loyal users; no complicated ideas or concept definitions, no badly handled invite-only launch procedures.

If it's the latter, Google could do well to shut down G+ as sheepishly as they did Google Wave, their hideously high-and-mighty first draft of social media reinvention. If only we mere users could have been sat down and taught how to use these things - I mean, the use of hashtags on Twitter came with the instruction booklet emailed to us a week after registration, remember?

The current incarnation of the Internet and its users attitudes leans against proscription and rule.     Its design is sleeker, less cluttered, more intuitive. G+ has become a watchword in how to carry out all those functions with the style of a drunk octopus undoing a bra with its eyelashes. From the expert inner workings of Google HQ comes another awkward service which proudly puts function at the very back of its workings. I don't feel confident about the purpose behind G+ - my current contact list is a muddle of Facebook friends and complete strangers who I only added by means of accepting the entire friends list of a mutual contact. What interaction is G+ supposed to encourage? I could upload a link to Facebook and debate it to death within hours; G+ can encourage barely a whisper in weeks.

Nobody underestimates Google without good reason. They have reinvented the search engine dynamic and have dictated the way to walk and talk through the Internet in this age of "post-2.0". What errors they show time and again is the concept they were never connected with in the first place; MySpace is for bands, Facebook for friends, LinkedIn for colleagues and currently there for absolutely nobody, doing nothing, not very often.

It's not that "we're doing it wrong", Google, it's just we don't feel a need to use it in the first place. If you wanted us to rediscover your search engine, repair the terrible search results which come from 'out sourced' functionalities on third-party websites. If you wanted to create a new force in 'social media', your homework was clearly left on the 27 bus on the night before the funding meeting. I'm conscious that Google don't use the term 'social media' in relation to G+, which might identify the core of the problem. If I find an interesting news story, perhaps through Google News, it can be shared on half a dozen websites without ever pressing "+1". There is no automatic tie-in between the Internet I choose to read, the friends I choose to link with on-line, and the service Google provides. Reinvention is more parts relevance than it is concept. Google Wave crashed; Google+ looks set to be switched off.