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There has been a flood of news on Google+, which is to be expected whenever a company as big as Google rolls out a new product.  This piece in Wired may be the definitive article to date: Inside Google+ — How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social

 

It was written by Steven Levy, a respected tech author who also did "In the Plex," a book about Google.  He was given unprecedented access to the campus and its employees, and it shows in his writing.

 

More than just a tech story, it seems like a great business story.  We're seeing a big, established company desperately trying to change direction to meet a rising threat. 

 

We've discussed this on TechHui before, in James Pakele's excellent blog post, Getting Google Social.  It's interesting to check in on that post and comments to see how many of our predictions came true. 

 

Bully Soares said this in a comment on that post:

Let's face it the one thing Facebook did have was the "producer".  The guy that said, "This is what the song should sound like when it's finished!"

 

When Google finds that person? LOOKOUT!!! :)

 

The mastermind behind Google+, Vic Gundotra, is the pointman that the company chose.  Gundotra took charge of the project from the beginning, and was later promoted to being Google's senior vice president of social. 

 

Because of the pressure the stakes and the scale, Gundota insisted that Emerald Sea should be an exception to Google’s usual consensus-based management style. He successfully argued that he, with Horowitz’s help, would set the vision. Even the founders would step back. Even though In 2010 Sergey Brin had a desk in Building 2000 and Larry Page dropped in a couple of times a week, their role was advisory with Emerald Sea. “This is a top-down mandate where a clear vision is set out, and then the mode of moving forward is that you answer to Vic,” Rick Klau told me last year. “If Vic says ‘That looks good,’ then it looks good.”

 

Google's engineers, while undoubtedly intelligent, did not have the right mindset to tackle social networking.  There needed to be one person with the vision, to filter all the decisions through.  Otherwise, the project gets muddled--witness Google Buzz and Google Wave.

 

Being late to the game might turn out to be an advantage for Google, since they've had the chance to observe other social networks and incorporate their best features.  For example, "Sparks," a way of signaling your interests, is reminiscent of StumbleUpon. 

On the other side of the coin, they've been able to learn from other sites' mistakes.  The uproars over Facebook's privacy breaches may make "Circles" a prime selling point for Google+.  Being able to easily compartmentalize your contacts like that is a simple and elegant solution over building multiple friend lists on Facebook.  Certainly a big improvement over having to watch all those Facebook privacy settings like a hawk, whenever the site adds a new sharing feature--that's turned on by default.

 

Speaking of Circles, Google's best move may have been to embrace fun eye-candy, from a certain fruit-flavored company:

 

Page, however, seems to recognize that this project in some ways requires a different approach from the Google norm. One variation that users will notice comes in interface design — conspicuously, in Circles. With colorful animations, drag-and-drop magic and whimsical interface touches, Circles looks more like a classic Apple program than the typically bland Google app. That’s no surprise since the key interface designer was legendary software artist Andy Herzfeld.

The former Macintosh wizard now works at Google — though he loves the company, he had previously felt constrained because its design standards didn’t allow for individual creativity. But with Emerald Sea, he had a go-ahead to flex his creative muscles. “It wasn’t a given that anyone would like what I was doing, but they did,” he says.

Traditionally, Larry Page has been a blood foe of “swooshy” designs and animations geared to delight users. He feels that it such frills slow things down. But Page has signed off on the pleasing-pixel innovations in Circles, including a delightful animation when you delete a circle: It drops to the bottom of the screen, bounces and sinks to oblivion. That animation adds a few hundred milliseconds to the task; in the speed-obsessed Google world that’s like dropping “War and Peace” on a reading list. “I’ve heard in the past that Larry Page he didn’t like animations but that didn’t stop me from putting in a lot of animations in, and Larry told me he loves it.” says Hertzfeld. “Maybe Apple’s resurgence had a little bit to do with it.” In any case, Google has recently tapped Hertzfeld as the design leader of the Emerald Sea team.

 

If you're going to copy anyone on the user-interface side of things, you can't go wrong with Apple.  The article does point out near the end that great features and sleek design aren't enough to ensure success.  With social networks, there's the chicken-and-egg problem of gaining enough users that people will want to join their friends on it.  The same way no one wants to go to an empty nightclub.

 

Google and Facebook's relations are at a major low point, in the wake of how the social network allegedly paid a public relations firm to spread negative rumors ab....  As a result, it is unlikely Facebook will allow their users to easily export their contacts to another social network--like Google+. 

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Comment by Daniel Leuck on July 12, 2011 at 3:41pm

James is spot on. Its very exciting to see Facebook take a run straight at Facebook, Twitter and Skype at the same time. I would have thought it near impossible, but Google+ is a tour de force of programming and design. The next six months will be very interesting!

Comment by James Pakele on July 12, 2011 at 10:09am

@Marcus... Have you been on G+?  The entire Google development community has been making themselves available, how do they say??? Off The Wide...

 

From Vic Gundotra to the Product leads for Profiles, Google+, GMail and more... they've been holding Hangout video chat sessions for sometimes upwards of an hour or more... it's really incredible...

Comment by Marcus Sortijas on July 12, 2011 at 12:34am
An update: I came across this Q&A thread: I'm a technical lead on the Google+ team. Ask me anything.  Programmers and scalability types will want to check it out.

Probably the only thing I've seen that resembles Google tech support, ha ha!  Fortunately, their products work well 99 percent of the time, so I don't have to ask for help.
Comment by James Pakele on July 9, 2011 at 1:42pm
There are rumors it might be open for anyone with a GMail account, now, no invite needed... but if you need one, I can send it out...
Comment by Tonu Apelu on July 6, 2011 at 10:55pm
@James thanks for the detailed info.
Comment by James Pakele on July 6, 2011 at 5:10pm
Google+ Invites are open again... anybody want in???
Comment by Nicole Velasco on July 5, 2011 at 9:41pm

I love G+. If anyone is on it already, +me!

 

As for the invites, you can only add various contacts to Circles but they don't get the full UI just notifications by email. 

 

And yes, the top-down approach with the execs is awesome. It's a tribute to the company and reflective of their dedication to being, well, Googley. 

Comment by Branden Tanga on July 4, 2011 at 4:52pm

Also, independent of circles, if you want to share something with a single person or a few people, you can just type their names and/or email addresses directly in the "add people or circles to share with". 

 

There was an alternative method for getting an invite to google+, but that seems to have been closed off in the last day or so. I'll post here if google opens it up again. 

Comment by James Pakele on July 4, 2011 at 4:45pm

@Marcus: Don't believe anybody that says they can get you an invite right now.  I got several days ago and got in, I was able to invite people but I don't think they anticipated the "bum rush" that was going to happen, so they shut down the invites.  I've read places where people were getting scammed or even fake invites that lead to pharmacy pages.  

 

Right now the best you can do is enter your name at plus.google.com other than that, don't believe it.  I'll post here if/when the invites are available again or it's available to the public.  A lot of the discussion right now on G+ is about making changes and adjustments to the service, there are many high level Google execs that are answering questions and participating in discussions, and change notifications... this includes Vic Gundotra, Kelly Ellis and Sergey Brin... Vic Gundotra has even been available several times via Hangouts... I believe this type of top level involvement is going to be a HUGE factor in the success of Google+...

Comment by Marcus Sortijas on July 4, 2011 at 4:33pm
@James: Thanks for the detailed breakdown, that was amazing.  Really informative commentary.

Google+ invitations are going like hotcakes nowadays, I've seen people on Facebook and Twitter offering them--and begging for them.  On a hunch, I went on Ebay and saw people auctioning them off.  Man, forget talent shows.  Looks like Google+ is the hottest ticket in town.

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