Google Plus-minus: failing successes or successful failures?

Google-Plus-or-MinusIf you do not like Microsoft, you take a Mac. If you do not want to use IE, you chose for Netscape. If you don’t appreciate Google, you use Bing or may Halalgoogling. But if you do not wish to support Mark Zuckerberg, whom should you choose?

Three years ago Google launched Google+. Until then most things Google did were new, fast, beautiful, brilliant – or all four. But they also had a few monumental fails: for instance OrkutBuzz (both exploded in a spectacular mess due to privacy problems), Reader and Wave.

And then came Google+

google+ logoThe whole nerd community sighed in relief: you were still looking at a powerhouse, but at least there was a fairly hip alternative to Facebook – with a few new fun features, such as the circles. It took some getting used to, but then there you were. These circles were also a strong element, because you could easily stay connected to people who were not just linked to you, but belonged to your “tribe”: collectors of porcelain KLM-houses, students of your high school, Halloween-afficionado’s.

Pros and cons

You use Facebook for your friends, and G+ for the rest of your social circuit, pre-existing or new. Another advantage of G+ is that Google includes ‘all’ information in their search results. Almost a vicious circle, or more a case of patting your own shoulder, but there you have it. Everything on G+, including YouTube videos, is sorted in the search engine.

Schermafbeelding 2015-08-10 om 17.33.12At the same time a disadvantage of Google+ – still allegedly 300 million active users, against 1.5 billion Facebookers and 284 million tweeters – is that they integrate everything with their other platforms. You had to have a G+ account to log in on YouTube – and that did not go across well: eventually the danger lured that G+ would become a digital ghost town. Because if you do not get any reactions to your posts, where is the fun?

What is more, Google Plus remained the beehive where all the other labels and service zoomed in and out. Everyone thought that it had been launched to surpass Facebook, in which case they failed. But where Google did not hesitate to pull the plug on earlier failures, Plus is still up in the air – in spite of many rumours (see below).

Cracks are showing

Schermafbeelding 2015-08-10 om 16.13.38The departure of G+ president Vic Gundotra a year ago, and the internal realigning of talent (1,200 techies were working on this platform) contributed to these rumours. Google showed however, that G+ is part of their complete package, without having the ambition to overtake Facebook. The platform helps users to shape their profile, and therewith to improve advertising: Google Ads is still one of the most important divisions! So, as far as Google is concerned everything was going smoothly. With a market share of 90% in the field of Adwords growth is limited. There is room to grow in the area of banner advertising, in the Google Display Network (more about that some other time).

This year G+ cracks began to show. In March the photo and communications function was separated under the name Photos and Streams. Originally Google wanted to compete with competition like Facebook with unlimited back-up and superior editing tools. Photographers did see the benefits, but the rest of the world did not.

google minusThe end of G+?

And then in July Google VP Bradley Horowitz blogged: While we got certain things right, we made a few choices that, in hindsight, we’ve needed to rethink. People have told us that accessing all of their Google stuff with one account makes life a whole lot easier. But we’ve also heard that it doesn’t make sense for your Google+ profile to be your identity in all the other Google products you use. So over the next few months, we’re going to be making some important changes. His motivation: “We think changes like these will lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+.”

Soon you will no longer need a G+ account to log in on YouTube, but a regularcollections Google account will suffice. Later, a similar scenario will follow for other Google services. New features will still be added, such as Google+ Collections, grouped around posting and sharing favourite subjects: a kind of cross between the existing Circles, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.

photo appOther applications

Google+ itself would also undergo some changes: focus will be more on reading and sharing messages around certain themes that interest the user. In June Photos was culled out from G+ and put into a separate smartphone-app. This automatically makes a back-up of all pictures you take on your phone (OK, but in a lower resolution). Free and easy. Furthermore the powerful search engine will look for people, places and objects in your pictures. Useful!

And then there is Google+ Hangouts – a sort of upgrade of Skype – where 10 people can participate in the call. You can spruce up your chat with stickers and emojis, and broadcast directly on YouTube. Organizations and companies, from one-man shows to multinationals, use it for their webcare, for cooking hangoutsdemonstrations, webinars, lectures, religious services, or as a sort of forum where you can ask questions in a certain time slot, and where one can collect followers. The Hangouts feature will also continue as a separate application.

Innovations

So: failing successes or successful failing – there are still plenty of innovations to credit to Google

GlassGoogle Glass

Google Glass was innovative (“Best Invention of the Year”, cried Time Magazine), but it proved to be more of a gadget such as the Apple Watch. The glasses were scowled at from the beginning, became a favourite target practice for the press and never reached a wide audience. Even though recently new applications were discovered for people with autism (neurologist Ned Sahin designed the app Brain Power), Google themselves seem to have pulled the plug.

Self-driving car

The Google Self-Driving Car, commonly abbreviated as SDC, seems to be Google’s new trump card. They came close to Schermafbeelding 2015-08-10 om 17.45.52purchasing Tesla for $ 11 billion, but eventually stepped into this market themselves (Tesla is also the victim of Apple’s headhunters, so all the big hip boys are in the game now). There are a number of growing pains: the Google Car was already involved in some accidents, where drivers even suffered from whiplash. Yet, there seems to be a bright future for the SDC – as was witnessed by the purchase of Here by Mercedes, BMW and Audi – where Google will also play a big role after the 2013 takeover of Waze. USA Today reported in August “Why car companies should be afraid of Google” – so they are believers.

fiberFiber

Since last year there is Google Fiber, which promises internet speeds of 1Gb per second, and also offers TV services. This is being piloted at the moment in a dozen or so American cities – there are roughly 30,000 subscribers now. Around 5,000 miles of cables is being planned in San Antonio, TX.

Purchases

Because more than half of product searches takes place on a mobile device, Google launched a BuyPurchases on Google” test in June, by adding Buy buttons on mobile adverts. It looks simple, but of course there is a huge logistic process behind it. The pilot is limited to a few retailers, like Staples: “Select Staples products will be available to a limited audience.”

What can save G+?Yammer-logo

In 2012 there was still talk about G+ prodding at the internal social medium Yammer. With Google Apps for companies and the integration of Apps and G+ that would have been a possibility, but not much came of it.

Yet, the question remains what can save Google+, because of the 300 million active users they reported in 2013, this year only 110 million remain, according to an independent research agency. And for the time being, the tide is not turning, if you can believe several sources. Most tech journalists reacted to the announcement of July as if it concerned an obituary.

Alphabet soup

google-alphabetAnd then finally, in August Google announced a solid restructuring. The holding will be called Alphabet, under it will be the divisions such as Search and Android under the Google name, next to projects as Fiber and the new Loon (a project where high altitude balloons should supply internet access to the two thirds of the world population who are now devoid of that, especially in remote areas) – each with their own CEO and responsibilities. This structure is being compared to conglomerates like General Electric and Sony, and even with investor Berkshire Hathaway. Until recently Google only had 3 legal entities – compare that to Disney: half the size but more than 73 legal units.

A big difference with these conglomerates is that all divisions remain financially dependent on the revenues of Google Ads. Another difference is that Google has free restaurants for the staff, in extravagantly designed offices. Because Google remains Google.

Google[x]

googlex_tvAlphabet will also lead Google[x], a semi-secret project meant to accelerate technological developments with a factor 10, also called “moonshots”. This includes the car, the glasses and Loon. Experts think that founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin would gain more freedom to execute their more quixotic adventures, such as the life extending Calico project or glucose detecting contact lenses for diabetics.

Alphabet soup

Alphabet_Inc_Logo_2015.svgAnd then finally, in August Google announced a solid restructuring. The holding will be called Alphabet, under it will be the division such as Search and Android under the Google name, next to projects as Fiber and Loon – each with their own CEO and responsibilities. This structure is being compared to conglomerates like General Electric and Sony, and even with investor Berkshire Hathaway. Until recently Google only had 3 legal entities – compare that to Disney: half the size but more than 73 legal units.

A big difference with these conglomerates is that all divisions remain financially dependent on the revenues of Google Ads. Another difference is that Google has free restaurants for the staff, in extravagantly designed offices. Because Google remains Google.

The logo of Alphabet shows the Product Sans font — shortly after the release, Schermafbeelding 2015-09-03 om 09.35.06Google changed it logo too, using the same font. The kept the same fresh colour scheme, but tilted the “e” (as was graphically shown on their search engine opening page that day): a rip off of Heineken, which invented that trick decades ago. The change of the logo also ensures that it is easier to read on mobile devices. It is also simpler than it was in the past 17 years: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” said Leonardo da Vinci.

The future of Google

As search engine Google reigns supreme, with a worldwide market share on the desktop of 66.44% – followed by the Chinese Baidu with 11.5%  (but this is hardly relevant for Western users). Microsoft’s Bing is third with 10.29%.

The supremacy of Google on mobile devices is even bigger with a market share of 91.5%! This is under fire, for instance from Mozilla, who in 2014 replaced Google as standard search engine in their Firefox browser by Yahoo. For the time being Google’s positions remains unchallenged. If Apple will build their own browser in cortanahero+copyiOS9 – as rumour has it – this could pose a bigger threat. They did not succeed to trump Google with the disastrous Apple Maps at the time, but maybe this is their chance of revenge? Or maybe Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s siriCortana, who both are growing more intelligent by the minute, will take over (a large part of) the function of search engines? We will see soon.

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