My feelings towards Google+ were best described by Alex Albrecht on an episode of Diggnation a few weeks back when he said “I’m hesitantly optimistic [about Google+].” In other words, I’m hesitant because Google Buzz didn’t do much for me along with a ton of other Google services that were overhyped and under-delivered. Wave, anyone? I’m optimistic because I’m always looking out for a new service that does one of two things: it either allows me to accomplish something in a way I’ve never been able to before or it combines functionality and simplifies tasks I’ve already been doing less efficiently. Software optimism is great to have and has paid off for me in the past with applications like OmniFocus and Foursquare – an example of each new type of service. But the hesitation is the real problem for Google and while my optimism grew stronger while using Google+, so too did my hesitation and, with time, the hesitation outgrew the optimism. This increase in hesitation occurred on four fronts; notifications, Huddle, a lack of an API and other integrations, and finally a lack of improvements.
Short Introduction to the Google+ Launch
For those who have not had a chance to try out Google+, its greatest functionality essentially boils down to a mixture of the public nature of Twitter and the real-time conversations of Facebook. There’s also a great underlying layer of privacy control in the form of a fun-to-use interface that you’ve probably heard about called circles. The reason why circles isn’t really much to talk about anymore is because once you’ve got your big chunk of initial contacts within circles, you rarely see that interface again. You kind-of forget about it.
If you already had a Google account (read a Gmail account), then you didn’t really need to do much to get signed up except agree to their terms of services and start throwing contacts in circles. The barrier to entry is so small that millions of users signed up in the first month. This bodes well for Google because what’s a social network without users? You can post all you want, but without your friends, family, persons of interest and acquaintances, you’re not following or talking to anybody that is important to you. Since Twitter and Facebook cover persons of interest and friends, family and acquaintances already, if these folks don’t make their way to Google+ (at least a large portion of them), then why would you? Thankfully large numbers of them came in droves to test out Google+ and that first couple of weeks was alight with activity.
Notifications and the iPhone app
After a while, though, the pitfalls begin to stand out. You forget to continue visiting the website and realize that your only form of notifications is their constantly annoying emails. So you turn them off. Then you really forget to visit the website. Thankfully Google did one more thing right – they released the Google Plus app for Android and iPhone. My notifications started coming through and that initial hump was overcome. But the app (at least the iPhone one) isn’t perfect. And just like with the web service, the shortcomings of the app start showing as well.
The first big problem is the way notifications work on the iPhone app. When someone sends you a message the notification shows up in the messages area, but after you’ve read it, the notification remains. To clear it, you have to not only read the message, but also visit the notifications pane and refresh all the notifications. This is a few steps too many and most certainly gets frustrating when you’re getting dozens of messages (if not more) each day.
Huddle is Google’s response to SMS replacement messengers like BlackBerry Messenger, Kik, Whatsapp, and the myriad of equivalents. When I first got the iPhone app, I was all for Huddle, it was faster to load than all of the other messengers and had roughly the same features. I was hooked. But as with everything else related to Google+ I began to get discouraged from using it due to the unfortunate behaviour of the application. The first problem was the notifications issue I mentioned above. The second issue is that everywhere I went that had low signal (whether wifi or 3G), my messages would start refusing to send. The annoying part is that it tells me they sent, then later on they’ll show me there was actually an error. I get the option to resend, but the resend button doesn’t do that! It brings the text of the message back to the text input box and I have to click send again – why make it two steps when it could easily be one? It’s not even close to the expected behaviour compared to all other apps that do the same thing. Clearly Google didn’t actually do their homework and use any of the other applications.
The most serious problem with Huddle is in the entire concept of how Huddle works. Huddle is only available in the mobile iPhone or Android application. You cannot use Huddle from the web interface even though the web interface already has a messenger application included! Google Plus web edition has Google Talk integrated in the same way Gmail does. People love Google Talk. So why in the world would Google make Huddle completely separate?! The worst part about all of this is that Facebook absolutely destroyed them on this very point.
During the launch of Google+, Facebook developers were hard at work integrating Facebook messages with Facebook chat. Just a few weeks after the launch of Google+, out came the new Facebook messaging platform – an integration of everything to do with private messaging through Facebook. From the email-like messages to the in-browser Facebook chat to Facebook chat on mobile devices, everything remains tightly integrated and in one combined messaging system. While I have my own tiny little personal issues with the new Facebook Messaging, overall it is extremely well done and absolutely destroys Google+ and their horribly fragmented chat and messaging systems. It sets the example for what should have happened with Huddle and Google Talk – they should have been one combined service. Had they done that, they would have beat Facebook to the punch and provided all first-mover Google+ users a good solid reason to stay with Google+. No such luck.
The non-existent API
I know what you’re thinking. “Why does anyone excluding developers care about an API?” Because they do, they just don’t know it yet. The existence of an API allows just about anyone to hook in to Google+ and make apps that take advantage of it. If Google had created an Google+ API right off the bat, what kinds of features could we all be taking advantage of? The biggest ones I was craving in those first few weeks are:
- Notifications. Yep they came on the iPhone, but I also spend my time on my iPad and MacBook – no such luck there! I am a huge fan of the beautiful Boxcar app for notifications on my iPad and MacBook, but I can’t use Boxcar for Google+ notifications because Google+ provides no way for them to hook in to do so. Damn, too bad there’s not an API for that.
- Automatic status updating. I already enjoy updating Facebook and Twitter. I do not want to update three or more services – that’s pretty damn time consuming. Dozens of applications already allow updating Facebook via Twitter and vice versa, but despite there being a demand for it, they cannot update Google+ because there’s no API.
I’m sure there are dozens of other great ways an API could benefit Google+. Too bad they weren’t on the ball here either.
How else should Google have integrated services? Does anyone remember their last ‘failed’ social media attempt? Google Buzz integrated your Facebook, Twitter and other services into one simple stream. So why aren’t Google Plus and Google Buzz integrated in any way? This one truly baffles me. If Google Buzz were integrated with my timeline in G+, my friends that prefer to update their Facebook status wouldn’t be a problem! I would then see their status updates in my Google Plus timeline. Those who prefer Google+ could then easily stick with it without the requirement to fall back on their Facebook timeline. Survey says: not happening.
Here we are roughly 1.5 months later. Google has updated its iPhone Huddle app once and I discovered none of my only annoyances fixed. You might be thinking, give them time! But yet in this 1.5 month period Facebook has made massive changes to their messaging system to blow Google+ away (including the addition of video chat). In today’s world of connected apps, one week is a long time, and so when roughly seven of them pass without any major improvements, I (and I’m sure many others) begin to lose interest and faith that Google has the ability to improve the platform in a decent timeframe.
Google has historically been known to be way too slow to make changes. From what I’ve read, they have a problem when it comes to snap judgements and instead choose to launch multi-month studies to make their decisions. When you’ve got time to do this, that’s a fantastic approach. When your competitors are iterating faster than you, it’s time to wise-up and change your decision making methods in order to keep pace. I have yet to see this from Google+ and my hesitation towards the service grows ever stronger.