Google has been trying to understand social for a long time. It tried to reinvent how we communicate with Wave, which crashed and burned. It tried to force social down the throat of users with Buzz, which reaffirmed the notion that Google doesn’t understand social. It’s only semi-successful attempt at social networking has been Orkut, which managed to gain traction in the Indian sub-continent and Brazil. However, Facebook has succeeded in rooting out Orkut from even these strongholds. Each of these failures has one thing in common. They were all fairly well received when they launched. Wave caught the imagination of tech pundits all over the world, and in spite of its privacy missteps, many believed that the massive user base guaranteed that Buzz wouldn’t fade out like Wave. But, it did. Nevertheless, Google has got a few crucial things right with Google Plus.
Unique Selling Point: The first question that Google’s new social product needed to answer was why is it required? We already have Facebook, which is a damn good social network. Google failed to demonstrate a convincing enough use case with Wave. People who logged onto Wave didn’t know what they were supposed to do with it. Thankfully, with Google Plus things are better. The welcome page itself has a very strong call to action that highlights the three pivots of Google Plus (Circles, Hangouts, and Sparks), and encourages the user to either watch a video about these features or to them.
Nuanced Approach: Social Networking is something that can be deeply personal. In this niche, being presumptuous can be a very dangerous thing. Unfortunately Google did just that with Buzz, and more recently with its Google Calendar Father’s Day reminder. Fortunately, Google Plus doesn’t force things down a user’s throat. It suggests people to add to circles, but doesn’t automatically do that for you. And whenever it does presume something, for example the circle you want to share a post with, it does so in a manner that makes the fact obvious. If you try to re-share a post that was originally targeted to a limited audience, Google Plus is sensitive enough to warn you that the original author might not want that content to be seen by a wider audience.
Smart Rollout: Google pioneered the invitation approach with the Gmail launch. It used the same system to create a huge amount of interest in Google Wave. So, it’s not surprising that Google Plus is also currently invitation-only. However, Google was smart enough to realize that early adopters will get bored very quickly if they only had a dozen or so friends on Google+. Hence, Google Plus was made open to all on at least two occasions, unlimited invites were offered to the seed group, and workarounds that allowed users to invite their friends were allowed to exist. According to some very imaginative calculation by Paul Allen, Google Plus currently has 1.7 million users. Even if that number is inaccurate, Google Plus has undoubtedly had a surprisingly brisk rollout, which succeeded in building up hype, without crippling the usability of the product itself.