Instead of working hard, which is what I should be doing, a minor health issue (at least I hope it’s minor!!) forced me to take an unwanted rest for a few days. By a mere coincidence, this was the week that Google decided to launch their new not-so-close-but-now-definitely-closed-again social service, Google Plus.
Ironically, I was stuck on doing Second Life-to-social-networking integrations and needed a break, when my PhD supervisor managed to figure out a hack to send me an invite to Google Plus, so I logged in to see what the buzz was about (pun definitely intended).
Please note that Google has a terrible track record in launching absolutely new services, so I was a bit reluctant to join Yet Another Failed Social Networking Service by Google. I had joined Orkut when Google bought it; Orkut is pretty much forgotten by the whole world except in Brazil and India, where it’s used heavilly. When I’ve registered to Google Wave, I was looking forward mostly to its most important feature: integration. I have always been wary of duplicating content all over the ‘net and not being able to bring it together in the same place. For example, it used to be simple to add Flickr and YouTube streams to Facebook using an application for that (there were tons). Then Facebook decided to reinvent the wheel and just offer those very same services instead of having people use competing services; so that meant re-uploading everything again. Sure, there are still ways to get some integration, but Google Wave promised to completely change the way we thought about integration. It had a rather powerful API and some very cool ideas. Alas, on my poor outdated Macs, it was a pain to launch Google Wave and watch the slowdown — way, way worse than logging in to SL with my usual FPS of 1.8-3.3 🙂 And of course I did not understand very well what Google actually wanted to do with Wave: not integrating with everything out there, but simply to allow others to integrate everything with Wave — which obviously didn’t happen overnight. It was clear that the collapse of Wave was imminent; a friend of mine who works for Google says that they pretty much maintained Wave around for so long because programmers were happily sharing code on it, as well as “old school” role-players (of the paper-and-pencil generation), so it still had a purpose.
Google Buzz was an attempt to emulate Twitter. The idea was not terribly bad, but also not outstandingly impressive — definitely not a “Twitter killer”. Obviously, Gmail fans will enjoy the tight integration with Gmail, but things quickly get confusing — Buzz becomes a mailbox on Gmail. I’m possibly one of the few persons in the world that never liked Google’s “threaded” approach to “mail conversations” because I simply get way, way too much email — it’s a slow day if I get less than a 100 messages per day; usually, I get close to 300, sometimes 500 — and it’s impossible to keep track of a zillion open conversations that way: I keep missing the latest updates on all of them; so I stick to my old IMAP mail reader, Apple Mail. Still, I love the superfast search features, which obviously I use a lot.
Strangely, it seems to be far easier to integrate things with Buzz than with Wave. But let’s be honest: Buzz is also semi-dead and worthless, compared to the alternatives, and it cannot honestly be seen as Google’s best example of “social networking”.
So… Orkut is for a niche geographical market; Wave, technically defunct, only appealed to an even smaller niche market; and Buzz, well, it was a good idea launched way too late. And I won’t even mention Google Lively‘s completely failed approach to address the social virtual world market. Not a good track record so far (and remember that Orkut was a product they bought, not developed from scratch — even though the current generation of Orkut has definitely little to do with the original). With Larry Page at the helm of Google now, the question was: does Page still have the “spark” to keep the giant growing and making shareholders happy?
Well, it looks like they had a pretty good start. Here is my first impression of Google Plus, and remember, on this age of social networking innovation, first impressions count a lot.