After playing with Google+ for part of a day, I have a few comments to make. Some are in relation to bioinformatics, others are just general comments.
My first comment is probably the least useful: Google, why the hell did you make me wait 3 days to get into Google+, only to then let EVERYONE into it 3 hours later after activating my invite? Seriously, you could have told me that I was wasting my time when I was chasing one down.
Ok, that’s out of my system now. So on to the more interesting things. First, this isn’t Google’s first shot into the social media field. We all remember “The Wave”. It was Google’s “Microsoft Moment”, that is to say, their time to release something that was more hype than real product. Fortunately, Google stepped back from the brink and started over – so with that in mind, I think Google deserves a lot of credit for not pulling a Microsoft. (In my dictionary pulling a Microsoft is blowing a lot of money on a bunch of adds for products that really suck, but will get critical mass by sheer advertising. eg. Bling. Cloud. Need I say more?)
Ok, what did google get right? Well, first, it seems that they’ve been reading the diaspora mailing list, or at least paying attention. The whole environment looks exactly like Diaspora to me. It’s clean, it’s simple, and unlike facebook, is built around communities that don’t have to overlap! With facebook, everyone belongs to a single group, while Diaspora brought the concept of groups, so that you can segment your circles. Clicking and dragging people into those groups was what convinced me that Diaspora would be a Facebook killer.
Instead, Google+ has leapfrogged and beaten Diaspora. And rightly so – Diaspora had it’s faults, but this isn’t the right place for me to get into that. As far as I can tell, everything I wanted from Diaspora has found it’s way into Google+ with one exception: You can’t host your own data. Although, really, if there’s one company out there that has done a good job of managing user data (albeit it has stumbled a few times) it’s Google. The “Do no evil” moto has taken a few beatings, but it’s still a good start.
[By the way, Diaspora fans, the code was open source, so if you’re upset that Google replicated the look and feel, you have to remember that that is the purpose of open source: to foster good development ideas. ]
So, where does this leave things?
First, I think Google has a winner here. The big question is, unlike the wave, can it get critical mass? I think the answer to that is a profound yes. A lot of the trend setters are moving here from facebook, which means others will follow. More importantly, however, I think getting security right from the start will be one of the big draws for Google. They don’t need to convince your grandmother to switch to facebook – they just need you to switch, and your grandmother will eventually be dragged along because she’ll want to see your pictures. (And yes, Picasa is about to be deluged with new accounts.)
More importantly, All those kids who want to post naked pictures of themselves dancing on cars during riots are going to move over pretty damn quickly. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I think EVERYONE learned something from the Vancouver Riots aftermath.
So great, but how will this be useful to the rest of us? Actually, I’ve heard that Google+ is going to be the twitter killer – and I can see that, but I don’t see that as the main purpose. Frankly, the real value is in the harmonization of services. Google has, hands down been one of the best Software as a Service (SAS or SAAS) provider around in my humble opinion. When your Google+ account talks to your email, documents, images – and lets you have intuitive fine grained control over who sees what, I think people will find it to be dramatically more useful than any of the competition. Twitter will either have to find a way to integrate into Google+ or to figure out how to implement communities of their own. It may be a subtle change, but it’s a sea change in how people interact on the web.
For those of you who are bioinformaticians, you won’t be able to take Google+ lightly either. Already, I’ve found some of my favorite scientist twitterers on Google+ and some have started posting things. Once people start getting the hang of the groups, it won’t be long till we’ll see people following industry groups, science networks and celebrities. (Hell, even PZ Myers has an account already.)
The more I think about it, the more I see its potential as a good collaboration tool, as well. Let me give an example. If group management can be made into something like a mailing list (ie, opt-in with a moderator) , a PI could create a “My Lab” group that he only allows his own students and group members to join, it would be a great way to communicate group announcements. It doesn’t spill out information people who aren’t interested, and other people can’t get into those communications unless someone intentionally “re-tweets” the content. Merge this with Google calendar, and you have an instant scheduling system as well.
What does Google get out of this? Well, think targetted google adds. As long as you’re logged in, Google will know everything about you that you’ve ever thought about. And is that a bad thing? Well, only if you’re Microsoft and want to complain about Google’s absolute monopoly of the online advertisement market. You know what Microsoft? Better them than you. (And hey, if Google adds do help me find a good canoe when I’m in the market for one, who’s going to complain?)