What’s the Plus Side, Google?

The concept of the phrase, “Facebook competitor,” almost makes you giggle at this point. Kind of like staring into the Grand Canyon and imagining then and there what could be better. Oh sure, there are other picturesque places. But it’s pretty hard to imagine them being more beautiful than what you’re looking at right now.

Facebook isn’t always beautiful. Far from it. But what it does have are a boatload of relationships between existing friends and family members. And that’s going to be pretty darn tough to break.

Yet, Google is out to try anyway with their new Google+ product. To cut to the chase, Google+ sounds a lot like Facebook with its profile pictures, feeds, etc. The big difference appears to be that you can better organize groups of people – and share what you like with those people specifically rather than your 690 friends on Facebook, 10 of which are real friends. But I digress.

Great idea, Google. And yes, Facebook has had major challenges concerning privacy controls. No doubt about it.

But here’s the challenge – you don’t have to just jab at Facebook with nicer tweeks to the model. In order to dance with the undisputed heavyweight of the social networking realm, you’ve got to full-on throttle Facebook with features that kick its ass. And even if you do, you’ve got to consider just how difficult it is to motivate people to uproot themselves from Facebook and the myriad of relationships they have in place.

It’s not impossible (Exhibit A: MySpace). It’s just that where MySpace was geared to a younger audience in general, the average age of a Facebook user is 38 years old. So there are more categories of demographics that have to get in the moving truck over to Google+.

Of course, maybe Google just wants a piece of the social networking pie. But if I may put on my more demanding customer hat, we don’t just want better technology. We want tools that are easy to use and fun. Google Buzz sounded kind of interesting, but did it enhance our lives over what was already in place? Not really. Same with Google Wave – kind of cool, but also kind of hard to understand.

Probably one of the most frequently mentioned books on business is “Blue Ocean Strategy,” the concept of getting out of the same pond as many competitors and fighting within that pond like sharks. Which essentially Google is not utilizing here. It’s fishing in the same pond and saying to people, “Hey, look at this cool new pole we’ve got for you to try!” We’re looking at that pole, agreeing that, yes, it probably is nice and even better than what we have, but still not enough to make us put down the pole that we’re already using. I think we can agree at least that’s this has been the experience with Google’s most recent efforts.

Google’s had just a little bit of success with that ol’ search engine of theirs. And Gmail. And Google Reader. And Google Alerts. But if you’ll notice, several of these are in the search, research and online storage realm. Not in the “connecting with others” interactivity realm. Anything outside of this set just feels like tinkering to me.

I will say Google has this much going for it: 1) It’s a giant in its own right and 2) If you read the comment streams of articles speaking about Google+, there is a LOT of pent-up frustration about the privacy issues of Facebook. These people want Google+ to succeed and they can’t wait to try it. That raw emotion, acted upon, is going to be honestly more important to the success of this endeavor than the bells and whistles of Google+ alone.

But with all due respect to those folks, Google didn’t work on this project as long as they did just to nab some Early Adopters. To avoid being mentioned in the same breath as “Google Wave” and “Google Buzz,” Google+ has to feel a whole lot of love from the mainstream too.

I don’t think we’ll have to search too long before we know the answer.