Some Thoughts On Google+

I’m a confessed tech tire-kicker, so when Google+ launched I was curious like you. Would the web giant get it right this time, or bumble through another missed opportunity a la Buzz? There was also a certain sense of fatigue that crept over me. I immediately felt compelled to tee up my best app configuration and social sharing skills for yet another destination on the web. So what gives after a few months with Google+?

Can It Be The Centerpiece?

After the Buzz hangover, the upside for Google’s social strategy was much murkier. You could see some of the pieces were in place, but fragmentation and execution were sorely lacking. You didn’t have the sense that Google had a vision for where it wanted to go with Plus.

NYT tech writer Nick Bilton was more forthcoming in a recent column: “Detractors don’t realize one very important point: Google does not see Google+ as a separate product; to the company, Google+ is the product.”

That’s exactly what I’ve noticed. You can see the black bar of collaboration (though that’s changing) creeping further down your screen and into all of the Google services you use. And that’ll be the trick. How will they continue to iterate and elegantly tie-in a larger ecosystem of apps and services?

The wild cards are GMail and mobile. With the former, Google has a loyal base of early adopters and a hub of active users that can help it tweak the platform as it’s integrated and becomes the dial for Google’s communications hub. As the crispness of communication improves, G+ will ride its Android momentum and infiltrate more of the nooks and crannies of our digital lives.  Monday Note’s Jean-Louis Gassée commented on the mobile piece recently, touching on the Android effect.

“This makes Google Facebook’s biggest, most direct competitor. The Trojan Horse applications on Android-powered smartphones are a direct threat to Facebook’s advertising business. Just like Google, Facebook wants to maximize our exposure to ads that are finely-tuned using the personal data we provide as a payment for the service. For this, the company needs a well-controlled smartphone.”

While Gassée singles out the advertising piece, it’s easy to see what Google’s working towards. That device tied to your hip is the entry point for everything, sans a few enterprise apps here and there.

More On That Facebook Fight

History tells us there’s no online network that’s safe from fickle internet users. The only thing that’s a Facebook killer is Facebook itself. And Google’s smart enough to realize this isn’t an all or nothing fight. Even if Facebook remains the photo album, gaming destination, and chat hub for so many, those are still commodities.

Granted, their scale is unmatched, but tech standards and processing capacity will likely ensure they’re interchangeable in any online environment. To move beyond the commodity fight, more utility has be created. Take the poster child for utility, LinkedIn. Love it or hate it, they built the platform as a utility to connect business people. After nailing that, they’ve continued to add commodity features. So who’s in a better position to build around niche and move past features? That’s where Google+ might have the advantage.

CollaborationThe Enterprise Boost

If you buy into the earlier Android point and factor in the enterprise angle, things get more interesting.

In a recent NYT piece, Facebook and Microsoft were again in Google’s sights.

“Possibly more important to Google is the way that Apps helps Google build social networks inside business. If successful, it would be a threat to Microsoft’s biggest division and would create another inroad in its struggle with Facebook to dominate users’ online lives.”

Having spent some time in the social software industry, it’s clear there’s pent up demand for platforms like Google+. Looking at its Circles feature, you can tell Google was striving for a simple way to delegate and distribute information. The configuration is a but much, but the core concept seems pretty solid. Let knowledge workers share content based on certain parameters and bake in communication capabilities on the periphery.

And while incumbents like Microsoft’s SharePoint still account for most of the dollars in enterprise collaboration, none has the consumer sizzle that Google+ brings. As our business and personal lives continue to collide in the cloud, it’ll be Google+ that has a head start. Most of us don’t use SharePoint before we tuck our kids in bed, but there’s a good chance you’re touching a piece of Google’s portfolio.

So if you buy into Bilton’s argument that Google+ is the center of all things Google, the long-term picture becomes clearer: grab a significant consumer foothold, iterate as needed, and move into the lucrative enterprise green fields. It’s the consumerization of IT on a big stage, and a show all startups should be watching.