Jul 14, 2011 by Aaron Rubman
According to CNN the tech elite are struggling to define Google+. This seems very odd to me, as the premise of Google+ is very straightforward: it is a social media platform that allows you to control where your message goes.
What makes this a radical concept is that no one else is doing it (well, no one aside from Diaspora, but I’ll get to that later).
The problem that CNN’s experts have run into is that they’re trying to define Google+ in terms of other social media platforms. No, that’s an oversimplification. As Jon Stewart recently put it, the mainstream media is biased towards “sensationalism and laziness.” What they’re trying to do is tell the story of “Google+ the ____ slayer,” and we simply cannot fill in the blank until we see how the cards fall out.
Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace: all of these services are built on a broadcast model where you speak to all of your audience simultaneously. While many of these services allow for private messages, they do not have convenient mechanisms to integrate targeted messages into the live stream of your content.
King of the Hill
Part of the reason why the Social Media Slayer story is so appealing is that we, as a society, like to see the mighty tumble. We have adopted the story of David and Goliath is part of our cultural legacy, and do our best to find David’s wherever we can (even if it means recasting the giants of the technological world).
But there is also a sense that the established players are vulnerable. Twitter has a limited scope of service, FourSquare tells strangers when you’re away from home, Facebook assumes that users want to share and doesn’t even tell them when it has made more of their information public, MySpace hasn’t had any noticeable growth for years, and even the blog hubs are under threat from authors who are willing to sacrifice presentation to follow the audience.
And so the race is on among news outlets to figure out which service Google+ most resembles.
Unfortunately, this misses the point entirely. Social media sites tend towards natural monopolies because someone who wants to be social will go where their friends are. If I want a Facebook-like service, it’s only natural that I go to Facebook first, because that’s where everyone else is.
What makes Google+ a threat is that it does something entirely new. Facebook can’t just flip a switch or add a feature to gain all the functionality of Google+, it would need a whole new suite of functionality. That’s the kind of move that could kill Facebook. Not only would such a change require a ton of investment, but it would draw even more attention to the product Facebook was trying to emulate.
Google+ the Diaspora Killer
The only project that Google+ has clearly killed off is Diaspora. Like Google+, Diaspora was looking for an easy way to let users chose who would receive individual status updates. Unlike Google+ you probably haven’t heard of it before, and with Google+ already dominating the press, you probably never will.