Rooting for Google Plus?
After dipping their toes into the social media sphere and running away with first degree burns, Google have finally taken the leap with Google Plus. Although people are criticising both Google’s timing and the slow roll-out, I’d argue that their timing could not have been better; many keen social media users are finding plenty of reasons to fall out with Facebook.
Facebook has caused outrage with its poor handling of privacy and personal data. The company failed to protect the user experience and nurture trust during significant interface changes and their move to targeted advertising.
There has also been very little - if any - attempt to control the quality of advertisers or the banners they place on your screen. Sorry Mark, but pictures of single moms, sexy cops, tacky blondes and headlines like ‘Sexy single women who want to meet men like YOU’... are tasteless, and plenty of people would rather not see them.
To show how people feel, many were happy to accept Spotify’s financial tactic of “pay me some cash please so I won’t have to show you ads.”
Facebook has survived the invasion of ads, for now at least. The redesign and addition of in-your-face advertising was inevitable; but if many people’s reactions were anything to go by, many of them are actually just waiting for something better to come along.
History can tell us a lot about the present, and there is one important precedent we shouldn’t overlook.
MySpace once held the hearts and attention of millions, but when they ruined our profiles by allowing any old banner ad, it really wasn’t ‘My space’ anymore – it was clearly whoever paid for the ad’s space, which isn’t a very good site name or slogan.
Myspace confounded this mess by exercising no control over placement and quality of ads, leading to mistakes like credit cards on a Buddhist’s profile, or Coca Cola banners on someone’s organic food page. Around the same time, musicians suddenly found their tracks popping up on other people’s sites and streaming services, and realised their uploaded music didn’t ‘belong’ to them. For lots of reasons, Rupert Murdoch among them, people left in droves and never went back.
Of course – they wouldn’t have left Myspace if Facebook wasn’t waiting in the wings. Well, history repeats itself; Enter Google +.
Google vs Facebook
The Facebook Corporation has none of the style, grace or sense of conscience that characterizes Google. Where Facebook is defined more as a canny entrepreneurial stroke of luck, Google comes out of the wash looking – in the main - like a world-changing tech-guru genius with a positive vision for the future of humankind.
Google is the only commercially successful embodiment of the early idealistic dream of the internet as a universal way to empower and equalise people through free and open access to information. They may not have addressed all of Tim Berner Lee's current concerns, but they are the best major player we've got.
It's easy to paint anyone with such a vast data collection as dangerous or evil, but that's been argued about enough. I could cite their pioneering work in energy efficiency, including building the world's first self-sufficient data centres and bending the arms of their component suppliers for environmental good. Or perhaps the new application of Streetview and Google Earth data combined with multi-sensory AI software that could one day consign traffic accidents to history.
Anyway, more of that belongs in a different post; but Google continues to put their data, profits, people and influence to positive humanitarian use, whereas Facebook is a classic single-purpose profit making enterprise.
Compare the philosophy, philanthropy and innovation of Google’s work to Zuckerberg’s college dorm project; a kind of online beauty pageant where adolescent students compared their girlfriend’s assets.
As well as the many brilliant, innovative and free things Google offers users, theirs is also a triumph of utilitarian design; the Google experience was never compromised with full colour ads. Sure it’s not prize-winning or spectacular in any way, but that's possibly also why we don’t get too tired of it.
Limiting advertisers to Google-designed on-screen elements has preserved the brand design philosophy, which is best described as understated, clean and functional - like much of the best modern web design. The Google homepage acts as a friendly, familiar art gallery and simple utilitarian interface all at once.
Paid content is actually so gracefully executed that most consumers don't realise they are clicking on a different type of search listing, while even fewer realise that their click is a precious commodity that inspires competitive bidding and can cost the advertiser an arm and a leg whether they buy anything or not.
Google’s unprecedented knack of making money out of free services that people actually use, want and value puts the competition in the shade. If they manage to apply the same values, strengths and product quality to Google + while also ticking all the right boxes for a Facebook-killer, there’s no good reason for it to fail.
From what I’ve seen of Google +, the interface has the edge on Facebook's thanks to former Apple-Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld, whose ideas already seem to have spruced up our other Google products. There are some lovely Google Plus-style Gmail themes available to some users – have a look in your settings.
Looking at the many sides of the Social Media argument, the history of these companies, their relative achievements, their levels of respect for the consumer, and their underpinning intelligence and philosophies... it’s a no-brainer. Hopefully with Google +, the big G have finally got social figured out.
The only reason anyone is still on Facebook is because they are waiting for something better to come along. We're rooting for Google Plus.