Google+ and the New Google

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.”

Woman: “Cool.”

Google+: “So… what’s your name? What do you do? Who are you friends with?”

Woman: *leaves*

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.

QR you serious?

While watching TV one night, I was treated to one to a commercial from one of the classier companies of our time, GoDaddy. During said commercial, Danica Patrick was pretending that she hates working for GoDaddy while a QR code remained visible at the bottom of the screen. I didn’t have any time to scan it, nor did I want to (probably a link to a mobile video where they fail to deliver on their hype). But the use of the QR code in a commercial struck me as odd.

To me, a QR code is a way to bring something static to life. I envision a QR code on a baseball card, years old, linking to current stats. I see a Jeopardy promotion from a fast food chain, where you scan the QR code and Alex Trebek appears on video to give you the clue. It can also provide an easy link to something you naturally need to do on your phone anyway; installing an app, for example.

But TV? I don’t think so. If you have my attention during a 30-second ad spot on TV, you shouldn’t be distracting me with the black and white checkered box. Not to mention that most people won’t be able to scan the codes in time.

Same for QR codes on billboards (I’ve seen several people tweet about these). Who is in position, or cares enough, to scan one of these? You’re trying to use a technology where it doesn’t fit.

On printed materials, these make more sense. If you put a QR code in an ad or on a product, though, it had better do something useful, not just dump me off on your mobile site (or your full site — some do this). Dare to be imaginative. If I scan a QR code on a pizza ad and I get vCard contact information, I’m going to be extremely disappointed. Show me a special coupon? Now we’re talking. Link me to a video where your pizza slice mascot is dancing in public to “Sexy and I Know It” and I will probably share it with everyone.

I really hope someone does that.

Too often, companies and marketers alike are quick to find that next thing and abuse it. QR codes aren’t even it anymore — I’d argue that honor belongs to Pinterest — but people still want to see them and want to feel like they’re doing the latest things, so square pegs are squeezed into round holes. My plea is this: with anything, not just QR codes, put yourself in the user’s shoes. If it’s not neat to you, it’s probably not going to be neat to them. Let’s be neat.

Google+’s Minus

With a change to the new user registration flow, Google+ now has a more prominent place in the Googleverse. Now, instead of creating a Google+ account after you’re a registered Google account user, profile creation happens during the regular Google account setup process. It’s kind of a big deal.

You have to figure that the likelihood of a user poking around G+ rises significantly when they’re forced into signing up, rather than being given the option after the fact. The number of G+ accounts will go up as Google registers more new users. Add this to the fact that Google+ now has a very visible role in Google’s search results, and you get the sense that Google is going to do everything they can to make G+ succeed.

The problem is, they don’t seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on creating active users. They’re not doing their best to make the Google+ service addictive. One thing they should be putting a lot of focus on is mobile.

With the launch of the Galaxy Nexus smartphone, certain Google+ features, such as Circles and Hangouts, are being advertised as phone features (finally, an Android partner is learning how to sell features instead of specs!).

Brilliant.

For its own version of the Android OS, Google is in a unique position to include as much or as little of Google+ as it wants. Google needs to bake G+ into every nook and cranny of Android, and have Android serve as G+’s Trojan Horse. If mobile users get hooked on some of the features, Google might be able to coax them over to the desktop version of G+, where those features already exist. But mobile is where I think Google can really plant the seed of addiction.

The Galaxy Nexus commercial was good, and it was a step in the right direction. But Google and the manufacturers using Android need to continue down that path of thinking and keep pushing Google+’s best parts as Android phone features. Get users doing Hangouts, get them sorting contacts into Circles, get them talking over Messenger, and then do a better job at putting those features in front of them on the bigger screen.

Information Overload

Back before its social subscription features were stripped away, I was a big Google Reader fan. I had hundreds of subscriptions of my own, but the most important reading was done in the “People You Follow” section. I trusted content curation to a few, knowing that I’d get to read the top items from the day, even if I didn’t get through my own subscriptions. This worked wonderfully for a while, but then it was gone.

I’ve been struggling to deal ever since.

The beauty about following people in Reader was the fact that nothing but news and blog articles made it into that stream. You can do something similar by creating Google and Facebook lists, but you’re not going to get straight content. Other things will enter the mix — status updates, photos, etc. — that add noise. It’s not the fault of the social networks, as they were built for sharing lots of different things. But what replaces Reader? What setup gives you the highest amount of awesome content shares with the lowest amount of other stuff?

Please, help me!

Coming up soon

I’ve been pretty quiet over here — in fact, my last post was in July — but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.

A little over a year ago, I determined that I was going to phase out 20five, my freelance gig. In June of this year, I (very quietly) did that. After a little bit of debate, I settled on a name for a new venture that tied more closely to communications: Convoh. The goal here, however, is not only to offer the services I used to, but to experiment with different ideas, methods, and potential products; to be more “lab” than “agency.”

In addition to Convoh, but along the same lines of experimentation, I’m going to add a few web properties to the fold as time goes on. One of those, Geartap, I hope to launch before the end of the month. Another, which is already somewhat established, will come as soon as I’m comfortable owning up to it. ;) Others will come later, and all will serve as from-scratch case studies on what out-of-the-box actions do and don’t work when launching and maintaining media properties and social media outposts. Translation: a way for me to test new ideas without screwing up work I’m getting paid for.

Speaking of… it was suggested today that the community in the Harrisburg area doesn’t like to share with each other. I’m always willing to help friends if I can, and to clarify: if I offer my help on something, I’m not expecting to charge you! It’s a personal favor. That is how I roll. Some people seem to have a misunderstanding with that. If you think I can help you out, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email — shawn at convoh dot com, or call 717-884-9763. Seriously.

Have a great Friday and an even better weekend, folks.

@shawn

Where Google Goofed

Google officially pulled back the curtain on Google+ today and opted for a slow, controlled roll-out instead of opening the floodgates.

And therein lies the goof.

Facebook is the behemoth in the social networking world right now, boasting over 500 million active users–all of whom have invested heavily in the service. All their friends are there as well as photos, videos, notes and other content. They play games there. They organize events there. They interact on Pages and in Groups with others who share their interests. Regardless of what pundits may want to believe, people aren’t going to just drop Facebook on a dime and flock to Google+.

One reason is that they can’t, because of the whole slow roll-out. The other is that the masses just won’t be there to make the site sticky when they do arrive.

Those who do have access to the service are lamenting the fact that they have access to Google+’s cool new features and no one to use them with. That curiosity will wane and those users will end up right back where they started–on Facebook, where everyone else is. In time, a new wave of Google+ users will be invited into the kingdom only to find their friends have abandoned it.

This isn’t like Gmail, which went through the slow roll-out phase. Gmail had no social aspect. Users replaced their old email provider with Google’s new service and had no idea whether one person was using it or millions were using it. Google also had novelty on their side, and it hadn’t failed at email multiple times before like it has with social.

If Google expects to have a chance at dethroning Facebook, they need to get Google+ ready for prime-time and get as many people using it as possible. ASAP.

Crowdsourced, instantaneous news

An eyebrow-raising tweet came through my stream today–one that I can certainly get on board with.

AnneDGallaher: Consider using a hashtag in tweets when we see news happening–advice from @harrisburgsmc #HbgSMC

First, a little back-story.

I occasionally brainstorm new social products from time to time. Abuzz is one that actually made it out of my brain and turned into something real. Most don’t. The particular problem I wanted to tackle was news. More specifically, how to make it faster, more widely distributed and relevant to those in a certain area.

About a week ago, I registered the @Hashburg name on Twitter and started toying around with some ideas. I set the account up so that a few hashtags (#news, #sports, #hbg and #hbgtweetup) would be caught in the filter and automatically retweeted from the account if the user in question was within 25km (around 15.5mi) of Harrisburg.

With apologies to @roxburynews, @todaysthedayhbg and countless others using the #hbg hashtag, my little Frankenstein news experiment went a bit awry and retweeted each tweet about five or ten times. If you didn’t notice, thank God. I deleted most of the tweets and took the account private so that the tweets wouldn’t interfere in anyone else’s streams while I tweaked it. But I still see potential in the idea as a way to quickly spread important news. A few other hashtags come to mind: #traffic (for relaying information about accidents), #weather (conditions and temperature where you are), #amber (to spread word about an Amber Alert), and so on.

It is by no means competition to the more established news outlets. The character length prevents that. But as a quick way to share newsworthy items, especially when coming from a non-news source, I think it’s the best way to spread a message.

iSupportHarrisburg, Part 2

I started the last post about iSupportHarrisburg by saying “This is a trip.”

This is, too.

I received an email earlier tonight from Rob Lyons, the man behind the curtain at iSupportHarrisburg.com. Five minutes after getting that email, I got two phone calls from two numbers I didn’t recognize: one from Florida and another from PA. Mere minutes after those calls, someone started a GChat session with me through the contact page on my 20five site.

As it turns out, all of these pings were from Rob. He wasn’t happy about this post. And I’m thrilled that he chose to ping me via chat, because now you get to read it.

Guest: Shawn are you there ?
me: Hi this is Shawn

Guest: Mr Farner, I am inquiring about the info that you had posted about IsupportHarrisburg.com. Tho I appreciate your opinion about the site and the humor it can do much damage to what we are working really hard to create. In November your right there wasn’t much of anything accomplished but since then things are looking up. Can I ask that you please remove the post. We have partnered with Pa food bank and the Luekemia & Lymphoma society.Over 60 local businesses are apart of this and we do see a big future. Honestly I do agree with some of what you said but its a begining that is showing major promise.

Guest: Also I am local , I took over this in Oct

me: Honestly, taking down the post isn’t an option. It goes against everything I stand for, really. As far as your partnerships, how are you pulling that off? If you’re striking deals with companies and don’t have the traffic to make it worth their while, you’re being dishonest.

Guest: I or nobody affiliated with Isupportharrisburg.com has been dishonest. We tell every business thus far that we are new,there is very little traffic at this point but as we grow marketing strategies will be implemented.

me: are you charging?

Guest: Of course , how else would a small business grow ? Responsible business owners wouldn’t pay if they didn’t see a vision wouldn’t you agree ? If not what are you trying to say ?

me: You aren’t giving them anything to pay for. I could walk down the street and you would be incredibly lucky if I found someone who knew about the site

Guest: I can see you are good at what you do.If you have any suggestions I am open for ideas.

me: You shouldn’t be charging local businesses anything until you have the traffic to justify the charge

Guest: That is your opinion Mr Farner , not fact. Fact is that local business owners are paying a nominal fee for the hopes that this does grow.When it does they still pay the rate they do now because they helped in the growing process. I need to create revenue to hire people like you to put out positive blogs about what we are doing in the future along with marketing the site in other ways than the web.

me: You dump your own money in, you take out a loan or you find investors. You don’t use your early customers to fund your company when you aren’t giving them something in return. I am willing to bet that they’re paying you with the impression that your site has traffic, not that “it might be successful someday”

Guest: I did not say that we have no traffic. I have and still am puting my $$ into this.The money that they are paying is to grow the concept. I tried to get ahold of you to get the facts straight.I am local just like you.This is new in this area and we are growing. Have a good night.

Guest has left.

The next project

While I often find myself with plenty to do, I occasionally get the itch to have another project going on the side. When I’m burned out from the day job or am suffering some kind of creative block, I like to work on my side project to clear my mind and re-energize.

Unfortunately, up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t have a side project. Then something hit me.

I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll give you a few hints. It’ll be web-based, community-focused (Harrisburg, PA area, not nationwide) and will be more or less an experimental venture. I’m hoping to sneak up on one particular, slow-to-adapt sleeping giant. ;)

If you’re interested in being a part of this, feel free to shoot me an email. I don’t quite have everything all figured out yet–maybe that’s where you come in.

I’d own a Kindle today if…

…it had Google Reader.  Why not just a feed reader?  I’ll explain.

If I had to estimate, I’d say that about two-thirds of the reading I do takes place inside Google Reader.  And not just my own subscriptions, but also the content shared by others.  I get a lot of value from those shared posts because, let’s face it – I don’t have time to sift through thousands of blog posts a day.  This is why a plain feed reader just wouldn’t do.  Sure, I’d be able to subscribe to and read blogs, but I’d be missing all the shared content and the sense of community I get inside Google Reader.

The Kindle isn’t built for that, at least not yet.  Is it great with books?  Absolutely.  But the blog reading situation needs to be vastly improved for me to even consider buying one and, unless that happens before April 3, I’ll be purchasing a different product instead.