Forbes has an interesting article in which is raises the seemingly perennial question about Google+: why should “ordinary” users care about Google+? The point that no-one is using Google+ isn’t really a good one, however you measure Google+ users, there are a substantial number of people using the service. The challenge is more the composition of those users.
The Google+ social service at plus.google.com keeps getting better and while it is pretty clear that this is not going to be an interoperable social service linking in with Twitter, Facebook and whatever else comes along (the dream of a federated and social Web seems to have left for more distant shores), it is still has enough appeal to keep attracting interest, at least. That said, Facebook is still where our friends and family tend to be (my wife has no interest in Google+, my mother mostly comments on all the notifications she receives from the profile I set up for her a while back but doesn’t visit the service much). That sort level of interest is typical of most of my friends and family members who don’t see a reason to use something other than Facebook.
This is why Google+ has almost no value to me as a personal, friends-and-family social service but the way Google seems to be tying everything into Google+ may bring more and more people into the circle as time goes on, without them really intending to become plus.google.com users in the first place.
The first clue is the new Hangouts app which is Google’s new unified communications app. It runs on iOS (very nice app that looks great on my iPhone and iPad), Android and in Chrome. It also seems to work just fine on plus.google.com in Safari and, possibly, Firefox (I haven’t tried the yet). Hangouts has replaced Google Talk, Google+ Messenger (yes, didn’t really use that either) and Hangouts (v1). The catch is that you have to have a Google+ profile to use Hangouts. This, alone, could push Google Talk users to activate their Google+ profiles if they haven’t done so already.
The next clue is how other services like the Android development tools use Circles to distribute beta or limited release software builds and how the new Maps will use Circles to enable users to filter, say, nearby restaurant options much like Foursquare users can filter nearby spots based on where their friends have checked in.
The point is that although a lot of the attention on Google+ has focused on plus.google.com and its potential for a Facebook and/or Twitter alternative, it is increasingly the connective tissue between Google’s products and services as well as the fabric from which many of those products and services are created. I can see a time coming when your choice is to use Google services (powered by your Google+ profile and identity) or to use something else. That time probably isn’t all that far away either.
In many respects, Google is becoming a lot like Facebook with a distributed walled estate and that is a tragedy. This is the trend on the social Web and the determining factors for which services you use may include which services (email, calendaring, collaboration, chat, photo sharing and so on) you want to use and your social experience could depend increasingly on those choices.