Google+ launched as a limited field test about a month and a half ago. I got an invitation to use it at the end of June and have been hooked pretty much since the beginning. When it launched much of the commentary was that Google+ is a Facebook and Twitter killer. A month and a half later, I don’t really agree with that assessment but that prediction seems to be what critics fixate on when they discount Google+’s value. I’ve been using Google+ alongside Twitter and Facebook since the beginning and my experience has been a pretty good one. I’ll try tell you why in this post.
Update (2012-06-20): I just came across this great video which explains some of the appeal quite nicely. It will also give you a nice background to what I write about below:
Firstly, when it comes to Facebook, Google+ really isn’t a seriously challenger just yet. There are a number of passionate Google+ users who have made quite a show of quitting Facebook for Google+, particularly when Google+ started gaining traction, but I still see Facebook as a far better platform for my personal interactions which I prefer to limit to friends and family. My Facebook profile is not public and I tend to restrict some stuff to those people I have met and am comfortable seeing photos of my kids, along with all the other personal stuff I share on Facebook. I have been sharing the same stuff I share on Facebook with 3 specific circles on Google+ and I see far better conversations and engagement, generally, on Facebook.
On the other hand, I agree with the contention that Google+ is a Twitter challenger. Notice I said “challenger” and not “killer”. While I complain about Twitter and have historically stated that it isn’t a great conversational platform, I am seeing more and more value in it every day, particularly when I stop bitching about Twitter and just use it. I came across a great post by designer Mike Monteiro titled “Density and Difference” where he points out visual differences between Twitter and Google+ streams and how Twitter streams are easier to scan and grok, compared to Google+ posts. Interesting points. That doesn’t mean Twitter is better than Google+, inherently, or vice versa but it does mean that Twitter is better for some things than Google+ (and vice versa).
I have focussed on engagement from people who follow me on both platforms. Leaving aside some of the interface stuff in Google+ which bugs me (comment threads you can’t collapse natively, posts which keep repeating at the top of my stream like a particularly spicy meal and so on), I find the conversations I am having on Google+ comparable to those I have on Twitter, if not better in some instances. That is significant for me because I use both services to start and conduct conversations with my connections. Here are a couple examples:
People driving with kids in the front of their cars, unsecured, is one of my pet peeves. I posted this one day on Twitter and on Google+. I didn’t get any direct responses to this on Twitter but the post to Google+ generated a fascinating conversation about seat belts:
That said, a similar tweet about a month earlier did generate a pretty decent set of responses but what I find is that the way responses are published and the extent to which they relate to each other on Twitter means that conversations in Google+ comment threads are more interactive with each other and tend to develop better. In this earlier Twitter conversation the responses to my tweet tend to be direct responses to my tweet and not to other responses:
This example is a little interesting because of the number of retweets. The “Stupid Parents” Google+ post was only shared twice but had a far better quality conversation in the comments thread. This isn’t a characteristic of all tweets compared to Google+ posts but it is still interesting if it points to retweets as a preferred form of engagement. Engaging on Google+ tends to be more contextual. When you comment, you are commenting directly under the post and you can very easily see the conversation thread.
Rich media posts
Tweets, in Twitter’s earlier years, were plain text with some links and hashtags. That has changed and tweets can include rich media too. This rich media capability distinguished FriendFeed back in the day and is present in Google+ but having this rich media in tweets makes them a little more engaging. This capability also means that the “Twitter simplicity” argument has a lot less merit now than it used to.
Rich media tweet:
Rich media Google+ post:
Between the two, I think I prefer how Twitter gives you a larger image but Google+ has the benefit of that comment thread.
What’s the Big Deal?
What I am trying to convey here is the point that if engagement has some value to you, you really can’t ignore Google+. There are other aspects to Google+ which Google has introduced (and, no doubt, will introduce in the future) which may make Google+ more compelling to Facebook users and more social Twitter users but, for now, Google+ offers a terrific opportunity for some meaningful engagement. I have little doubt that brands will find Google+ very compelling when they can start setting up shop on Google+ but as an individual user Google+ is already an essential part of my social Web experience.
Anecdotally, I also find that referral traffic from Google+ is higher than Twitter referral traffic, sometimes dramatically. I won’t disclose numbers because my traffic is embarrassingly low but the relative figures arguably suggest that higher engagement levels on Google+ translate into pretty decent traffic, comparatively speaking. As far as followers go, I have about 2 700 Twitter followers at the moment, compared to about 900 people who have me in their Google+ circles (a requirement to follow me there).
Bottom line here: You don’t have to use Google+ and that is ok. My wife keeps telling me Google+ has little appeal for her and there is nothing wrong with that. If you find Twitter/Facebook/your blog does everything you need then keep doing what you are doing. Just don’t be too dismissive about Google+ without first having an appreciation for its tangible value at this early stage in its development. That is short-sighted and potentially costly for you.
If you do want to get in touch over there, swing by.