The June launch of Google+ was met with a mixture of intrigue and bemusement. Intrigue because social media has become such a phenomenon in the second decade of the 21st Century that anything new inevitably provokes curiosity. Bemusement for much the same reason – in an online world which offers Facebook and Twitter, who needs a third mass market social network?
Of course Google+ is not the search giant’s first venture into social media. 2010 saw the launch of its previous attempt – Google Buzz – but this was severely criticised at launch for lax default privacy settings. In particular, users’ most frequent Gmail contacts were openly displayed on their profile pages. Although such security holes were later plugged, Buzz never recovered from the bad publicity and last month, Google announced the discontinuation of the service.
To date, Google+ has fared better and after a wobbly exit from an invitation-only beta status, this brand new and shiny social network is open to all. For those who spend their social media lives bouncing giddily between Facebook and Twitter, Google+ still excites little interest, but in spite of widespread indifference, a modest but growing user base has begun to develop. Google+ offers some advantages – a much less cluttered interface, as well as an innovative ‘circles’ feature for easy contact and friend tracking, but the site is still a very long way from competing with Facebook’s global audience.
Google’s latest addition to the network is Google+ Pages, their answer to Facebook’s feature of the same name. Pages allow brands, companies and organisations to establish a promotional presence on the network and were unveiled earlier this month to a decidedly mixed reaction.
More positive commentators have hailed the intriguing innovations available in Pages, including:
- *The ability to add a brand page to your Google+ circles straight from a search results page.
- *Access to ‘hangouts’ (live audio/ video chats) – providing an excellent way for brands to talk directly to their fans on Google+.
- *The ability to place followers of a particular brand page into different categories and share different content with each. (Of course, the latter option depends on the Google+ Circles function).
But most of the reaction has centred on the things Google+ brand pages cannot do. There is, for example, no ability for more than one person to administer a page, and extraordinarily for Google, no analytics are available. Custom URLs are not available, and admins cannot run contests or promotions.
Respected tech journalist Robert Scoble highlights the many difficulties that will be faced by large companies trying to maintain brand pages when only a single member of staff can administer them. Scoble is so unhappy with Google+ brand pages in their current form he delivers the unambiguous verdict: “I wish I’d never heard of them”, adding “Google, did you really think this through?”
No doubt Google+ brand pages will evolve and develop over time. But there is something very Google about the launch. The world’s premier search engine has so much power and so much money that it can get away with half-finished product launches that would cripple a less influential firm and kill a start-up. They know full well that the power of the Google brand will draw people to brand pages whatever their shortcomings. As website Search Engine Watch put it: “Google Brand Pages Lacking, But You’ll Make One Anyway”.