Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How G+ Can Differentiate from Facebook: Education, Enterprise & Entertainment

In terms of sheer adoption, Google Plus has been a smashing success. With over 90 million users it’s the second fastest growing service in all of human history. Still, Google Plus is generally and increasingly viewed as a boring second-tier alternative to Facebook, which is now quite probably diffusing at the fastest rate of any technology to date.

Why? Because Facebook has the people, the conversations and massive data inertia & gravity. Its interface is boring, but Facebook isn’t. Many claim to be annoyed by it, but with 950 million+ highly engaged users Facebook has won social on planet Earth, thus far.

How might Google Plus compete against Facebook’s massive social inertia? For starters, Google could simply use its massive warchest to buy users. But that’s a mighty expensive proposition for users that could simply flee the service if it doesn’t prove sticky enough.

Far more likely, Google Plus will learn to win over users on the fringes, in currently non-mainstream use areas that could become critical differentiating factors for social network adoption and use in the coming years.

There are a few social network use categories that Google Plus is poised to rock: Education, Enterprise and Entertainment.

Education: By bundling all of its productivity tools into one big package, Google is already winning over classrooms. If the Google Suite plus G+ becomes the dominant education platform, that means millions of trained Google users will be deeply familiar with and more likely to continue using Google Plus.

Enterprise: By investing in productivity-enhancers like Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Multi-Video Chat, Google has challenged the likes of Microsoft in the workplace. These are positioned at the core of the Google suite. As Google continues to enhance these tools and build new ones, the company sure seems to offer the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to enterprise software. With a culture focused on efficiency and engineering, Google is likely to kill this category.

Entertainment: This is the great big wild card, imho. Whereas Apple and Facebook have made major strides in incorporating fun games and/or big Hollywood titles into their products, Google has yet to demonstrate that it really gets entertainment. No doubt the company is learning quickly via YouTube, Google TV and Google Play, but it appears to be a catch-up and keep-pace strategy, not a leap-frog play. Google Plus could certainly benefit from some big game titles, marquee movie releases and an eco-system of cutting edge games and apps. The battle for these properties and developers is already underway. Social web tv will be a reality soon. Who will best understand how to manage and provide programming?

The advent of fully operational HTML5 and all of the associated in-browser dynamic and multi-player gaming and viewing opportunities will be a major game-changer that could turn the tide vs Facebook. That said, 1) Facebook appears to be more focused on staying ahead of the casual gamer curve, 2) Microsoft (somehow!) has a dominant position in gaming via XBox that it will surely try to leverage into social, and 3) Apple could quickly grab mega market share by spending a few billion of its cash reserves by launching a social network around iTunes and the App Store. Google will need to be clever, by deed or by acquisition, to lead in this sector - but their other stable mega-properties, like Google Earth, Docs, Android, give them some unique insight and could well provide an edge in complex game platform design and operations.

There’s major disruption on the horizon for the major social networks. It’ll be fun to watch it all play out. And by fun, I mean literally - expect to see more better games, pro video titles, amateur video programs and serious games, not to mention major productivity enhancers that will continue to tip the scales in favor of the small business owners and growing prosumer class.