When I think back to my Internet days B.G. (before Google), I struggle to remember which search engine I used. I assume Yahoo!, though I vaguely remember typing in names like “AskJeeves” and “AltaVista.” Before Google, finding what you needed wasn’t that easy. Google changed the game, and it became a fixture in our culture. Hell, it’s a verb. “Google it.”
Google Search was worlds better than anything out. They didn’t have to force me into using it. I typed “google.com” into my address bar willingly. When Gmail launched and a kind soul gave me a beta invite, I also made that my main email address. Willingly. No gun to my head. Gmail was a vastly superior product to Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail, or anything else that was currently available. Google won me by being better.
I can tell this same story over and over for products like Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader, and so on. When Calendar launched, I didn’t touch another calendar app again. When Docs launched, I washed my hands of Microsoft Office. When Reader launched, I read more and I shared more, because it no longer felt like work.
I use a lot of Google products, and most of them are best in class. For the products I love, I never felt for a second like I was being herded into using them against my will. It never felt like a hard sell. Google, in the past, has been really good about that.
Except with social.
Buzz kicked it off. One day, Google decided to add a Twitter competitor to everyone’s Gmail inbox. Terrible idea. People were angry, and rightfully so. No one signed up for Gmail so that they could join another social network, yet Google felt it was a necessary move. Buzz pissed a lot of people off and never caught on. It was later killed off.
You’re seeing the same thing now with Google+. Google is trying to reinvent itself (a “New Google,” kind of like “New Coke”), and is again trying to herd its existing user base into a new service that they don’t really want. It’s trying too hard. Google+ is, essentially, the guy at the bar who keeps hitting on a woman, missing all of the obvious signs that she’s not interested.
Google+: “Hi there. I see that you’re a fan of Guinness. May I sit down?”
Woman: “Sorry, I just want to drink by myself if you don’t mind.”
Google+: “Haha, that’s cute. But seriously, let’s talk a little bit. My name’s Google+. I help you share things with people, but I’m not a social network.”
Google+: “So… what’s your name? What do you do? Who are you friends with?”
Worse yet, Google is gimping its inventive spirit in order to focus on things that promote Google+. It killed off Google Labs. It took the Share feature out of Google Reader, opting instead for a “+1″ button. Former Google employee James Whittaker quit the company because he longed for the imaginative Google of old, instead of the Google+ focused corporation (“New Google”) that exists today. It feels like Google has replaced innovation with desperation, and as a Google fanboy, it is painful to watch. It’s like I don’t even know Google anymore.
It will be an interesting year, or two years, or three years. I personally think Google+ will be killed off within that period of time, and it will be devastating to the company because of the importance Google itself placed on the initiative. Anything less than mass adoption constitutes failure, and Google seems determined to get there by force.
Good luck with that.