Google+ is mostly a minus

Google's new 'Facebook killer' is impressive in demo form, but the Web might not be big enough for another social network

Well it's finally here: the Google Social Network. And I for one am so excited that I could just ... zzzzzzzzz.

I'm sorry, I dozed off there for a second. Probably from those cold meds I've been taking. What was I saying? Oh yeah.

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In case you missed the news, Google finally unwrapped its loooooong-rumored answer to Facebook, the oddly named Google+ project ("Real life sharing, rethought for the web"). The official blog entry announcing the project starts with a Hallmark Cardesque introduction that is totally out of character for Google:

Among the most basic of human needs is the need to connect with others. With a smile, a laugh, a whisper or a cheer, we connect with others every single day.

Another basic human need: the need to gag when something cloying gets stuck in your throat. I'm starting to feel that need right now.

Today, the connections between people increasingly happen online. Yet the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions are lost in the rigidness of our online tools.

In this basic, human way, online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.

We'd like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project ...

That's right, Google+. Not to be confused with Google+1, which lets you tag search results you like (if not "like") and see which results your friends tagged. Or Orkut or Buzz or Wave or any of the other social media tools Google has churned out over the years.

Right now, though, Google+ is mostly a series of aggressively heartwarming YouTube videos and an online demo. In that limited way, Google+ seems impressive. For example, you can segment your online friends into +Circles (with names like "The Fam" or "Epic bro's" -- yes, seriously), so you don't have to share everything with everyone. On the surface at least, it looks a lot slicker than Facebook Lists.

Then there's +Sparks, a discussion group feature where you can "geek out about the things you are absolutely passionate about" (per the video). And +Hangouts, which lets you interact with your Google+ friends via spontaneous live video chat. (Think Chatroulette without the anonymous sausage factor.) Or +Mobile, which automatically uploads photos from your Android phone and lets you create instant Huddles -- group chat sessions with up to six friends.

I have just one question: We already have one Facebook. Do we really need two?

I know, I know. Seemingly irresistible forces of technology have crumpled within the space of a few years. At one time, IBM was the big, bad monopoly that needed to be splintered. Microsoft was going to run every device in your house, like it or not. AOL was king of the online world. MySpace was so far ahead in social networking that nobody would ever catch up.

Now IBM has become kind of like electricity or running water -- you don't think about it until something goes wrong. Microsoft has become kind of pathetic. AOL passed the pathetic mark and went into ludicrous a long time ago, and MySpace -- heck, if you have $50 to spare, Rupert Murdoch might sell it to you.

And so it could easily go with Facebook. Those 700 million users are a fickle bunch, and aside from some status updates and time spent clicking "yes" and "like," they don't have much invested in it.

It's possible people will abandon Facebook in droves and move to Google+, or Google+ will hoover up all the last few folks who have electricity and running water but have yet to open up a Facebook account. Or maybe people who have no lives outside of social networks will end up using both Facebook and Google+.

I just don't see that happening. Google+ really would have to be revolutionary to draw people out of their old habits and create radically new ones. I'm not seeing a revolution here.

I predict Google+ will go the way of Google Wave, which was supposed to revolutionize how people collaborated, though few outside the Googleplex understood exactly how. Now that Wave is gone, we don't have to worry about what it really is any more.

Personally, I see that as a plus.

Would you drop Facebook for Google+? Post your thoughts below or drop me a line:

This article, "Google+ is mostly a minus," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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