Friday, July 15, 2011

Google Plus, and the Facebook and Apple Context

Executive Summary: Google Plus' future is for Google to throw away. It is in the hands of the marketing team (because I think the product is on a Moore's Law-ish trajectory), and in the hands of the unknown disruptive forces hiding in dark alleys. Yes, this is an unabashed, quick and dirty speculation on Google Plus' opportunity. From The Desk of Talking-About-Google+-As-a-Social Network-Is-Like-Calling-Le-Louvre-a-Little-Hovel.

After living with google+ for a while, here are some key, qualitative thoughts.

Throw away all that propaganda about Google Plus as a social network. Calling Google Plus a social network is like trying to fit an elephant into a refrigerator. Evaluate Google Plus against Facebook and Apple on the following dimensions:

• Core Company Products
• Digital Platform Integrating Core Products as an Ecosystem
• Flexible Social Platform
• A Gateway to a Digital Life
Now that we have got the obvious Big, Hairy, Audacious Ideas out of the way, here are the qualitative teasers I was talking about:

1. For The Believers:
Are you already a googlephile who cannot live without, atleast a few, google services? Then, Google Plus is, for now, google accounts on steroids, with controls and features staked onto it.
Very nicely done, though. Thank you. Not tacky at all. Now, segway to that Journey song from Glee.
2. Indicative Product Feature- Circles:
Very nicely done. Again. Lives up to its billing as the slayer of social network privacy concerns.

The circles model of relationships reminded me of a "brain's trust" model shared by a macroeconomics professor in graduate school. The graphical privacy controls makes you want to get comfortable by tweaking privacy to your comfort level.

Note, I have not talked about features like Hangout. All of those also falls under the "Nicely done. Thank you" category. Why pick Circles? It jumps at you like no other Google Plus feature.

3. Integrated Digital Platform:
Picasa for pics. Videos.YouTube. Yeh. Google has some pretty powerful and mature products. Google Plus comes "preloaded" with some of these google products. Google Plus is a great way to sew these products together, making it a complete and a serious digital platform.
Would you say that Google Plus is like an Apple ecosystem? Can it be like an Apple ecosystem? Can it be better than an Apple and a Facebook ecosystem rolled into one?

I think it can, but that is a different story, a different blog post. All Google has to do is light a few fires. Keep doing what it is doing on products. Keep integrating them. Oh, and spawn a few Zyngas now and then.
4. A Social Platform:
Will Google Plus be a serious social platform? That would be a function of adoption (think share of social life) and switching (think identifying this as a primary social platform).

Google Plus may hit 20 million + users by July 20. However, how many users will migrate from Facebook to Google Plus? How many will live in animated suspension between the two worlds? Finally, how many will use Google Plus as a glorified GMail service?

What would be your estimate of an equilibrium/ steady state Google Plus user base? 150+ MM? 250+ MM? 400+ MM? While staying out of China (for how long?)? What is your sense of the tipping point when Facebook users start migrating from Facebook to Google Plus, network by network?
5. Privacy Controls:
Yes, finding myself in a few folks' circles, when I hopped onto the platform, freaked me out a little.

Also, Google Plus, better than google accounts, brought home the fact that I use a lot of google products and all that information is a sneeze away from being mapped into a digital life.

If you live off GMail, this should not surprise you. However, since I can claim to understand a little bit about security, privacy concerns will always pop up in my mind. Maybe it is just me.

6. A Gateway to a Digital Life:
To borrow from a wise man I know (who is also on Google Plus) - can Google be my gateway to a digital life?

The Pitch? Without much ado (to all the Google engineers, yes I am being simplistic :-)), Google can be my online identity, my Netflix, and my computing device on a cloud. Even as a glue for the google products we already (or will) use, Google Plus will be a formidable doorway.

I am inclined to draw a bubble chart mapping how the Apple, Facebook and Google future state ecosystems would look 5 years from now. For now, all I will say that in his early days, Henry Ford would have been proud to call his company Google. Think Google Products + Android + Cloud + Google Wireless (Definitely Maybe?).

That's enough crystal ball gazing for now. I have stretched my definition of "key qualitative thoughts" far enough. Moreover, I would like to sneak in the crystal ball gazing in digestible chunks.

What do you think? If you do, you know where to catch me for a lively conversation.

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