I'll admit it: I had high expectations for Google+ when it was first announced. I imagined Google elevating social networking to the next level by taking the best of Facebook -- a medium for friends, family, colleagues, businesses, and customers to connect and interact -- then adding a cleaner, simpler UI, and tying in other Google products, such as Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar, to inject invaluable collaboration capabilities.
Google has certainly nailed the cleaner, simpler UI; I've seen plenty of praise heaped on Google+ for making the creation of groups a drag-and-drop snap. Facebook does enable users to create groups as well, to control who can see particular posts or messages, but the process is relatively tedious, and the average user may not even realize the functionality exists.
But easy-peazy group building, superior chat, and a cleaner interface evidently have not been enough to keep Google+ users actively engaged with the site. The main reason to use the site right now is to see the latest status updates from your Google+ contacts, but they're likely also posting the same stuff to Facebook and/or Twitter, anyway.
Google's solution to draw more dedicated users: a games channel. As I write this, perhaps dozens of Google+ users are playing City of Wonder, Zynga Poker, and Crime City -- all of which are already available on Facebook anyway.
Are casual gamers really going to give Google+ a much-needed jolt? It's tough to imagine so. Facebook is already brimming with games that have very devoted (read: addicted) followers. There are other well-established channels for casual online gaming as well. Unless Google manages to line up some kind of exclusive deal with a stellar game maker or to otherwise offer a gaming experience no rival can match, games aren't going to be the answer.
What's curious to me is, why isn't Google leveraging more of its existing portfolio of apps and services to enhance the Google+ experience? For example, you can already share pictures with your Google+ contacts easily from Picasa, Google's photo editing and storage service. How about being able to create, say, a spreadsheet in Google Docs and then share it with existing Google+ with equal ease -- regardless of whether they were on my Google Contacts list to begin with?
How about incorporating Google Calendar with Google+ so that one can easily create events and invite your select Google+ contacts to them as well as add events, birthdays, and the like shared on Google+ to your own Google Calendar with a simple click?
What about incorporating Google Places so as to give all types of businesses a presence on Google+ and a means for them to engage with current and would-be customers? Or tying in Gmail to enable users to message one another privately?
Google certainly has an opportunity to redefine social networking here by making Google+ a front end of sorts for its wealth of apps and services as well as offerings from third parties in Facebook-like fashion. Hopefully Google won't squander the opportunity by betting the farm on, well, FarmVille when disgruntled Facebookers are hungry for a more substantive social networking experience. To Google+'s credit, though, it has already spurred Mark Zuckerberg and company to make some much-needed improvements to Facebook, including video chat via Skype and better gaming. Hopefully Google will emerge as a viable Facebook competitor to ensure that both companies continue to push the envelope to the benefit of all users.
This story, "Games won't redeem Google+," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.