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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 James Pakele on July 4, 2011 at 2:36pm

With the release of Google+ I realize that I was wrong on one major point... I thought there was no way Google could succeed with a straight run at FaceBook.... I was WRONG!!!  I didn't expect such a complete and encompassing product coming from them...  I was/am blown away and have described Google releasing this product as them taking a huge steaming dump on the front porch of almost all the major players... FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and of course Skype.


FaceBook: With Google+ I am allowed to have the one on one "Friend" relationship with others by including them in my Circle and having myself be placed in one of their Circles.  Private Messaging is done over email (where it should be).  With FaceBook I get notified via email and I need to click a link to open FaceBook where I can then make a reply.  Being able to simply reply to an email from GMail is great!  I can select what I want to share with whom, for instance my son just had a going away party and we took pictures of him drunk off his ass towards the end of the night... there are some close family members (my brother and his wife, etc.) that I'd like to share the pictures with so we could have some chuckles, but NO WAY am I putting him out on FaceBook for EVERY one of my "friends" to see...  Google+ w/Circles would allow me to do just that, easily.  I can also filter my "steam" based on Circles, those that constantly spam the stream get placed outside that circle and *boom* I am still their "friend" and can communicate with them and see what they posted when I want, but their spam is not clogging up my stream.


LinkedIn: From one account I can have a "Business Contacts" circle that I post ONLY business related information too.  So now, what is the point of maintaining an entirely separate Social Network for?  I mean really, that's all I used LinkedIn for anyways...


Twitter: I am allowed to have the Twitter style relationship where I can Follow people who know nothing about me (and could probably care less), but whom I want to hear what they have to say.  For instance, my Tech News comes from following certain people on Twitter... now I follow them on Google+ (especially since they are in the early adopters list)


Flickr: Picasa has redid their policy on which photos count against your storage limit, for those who sign up for Google+, they have increased the size of "free" pictures to 1280 x 1280 (5MP camera).  Where I was once using over 85% of my Picasa storage, I am now using 6% because of this change.  I have noticed that many people I follow have been loading their Flickr and Instagram photos into Picasa over the past couple of days... lucky for me I had already done that a few months ago and Picasa integrates with Google+ so seemlessly...


Skype: It's no wonder Google took such little interest in Skype... they were already sitting on the Hangout technology at that point...  10 person simultaneous chat and done in a way that is intuitive and simple to start... Skype, you have been put on notice... if/when hangouts ever get to the mobile platform, whoa baby!  In addition you can "group watch" YouTube videos which is similar to (but not quite) (which has been really taking off as well).  How many times have I sat around with friends at their house or mines popping up YouTube videos, "no cuz, you gotta watch this one...", now we don't have to be in the same house to do it...


Group Messaging/SMS: Huddle is awesome for group things, and has been said it will allow the inclusion of people through SMS not just the Huddle interface.  I just hope this opens to the public before our next concert outing, it would be cool as hell to include everyone with us at a concert in a Huddle and be able to message just that group things like "meet up at the bathrooms at 9:00"...


Google also added some little "hooks" that will draw people into the service, like the sandbar on the top of every Google site, this will draw people in, as it will soon be an "oh why not" since they are always looking at it.  Also, is the ability to include people in your Circle that aren't a part of Google+, where they will be sent an email every time you post something to that Circle... it serves as a constant reminder to those that there is a whole world out there that they are not a part of. 


So, while I was right that everything should come together and be more in sync I was wrong about it having to be a slow subtle move instead of a straight run at the more popular sites... They are taking a straight run at more than just FaceBook and look to doing a damn fine job at it...







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