I can’t help myself, but I think the past few years of social media market development have been a bit of a disappointment.
What once was a bustling ecosystem of blogs, forum sites, multiple social networks, video and photo sharing sites, social bookmarking services and so on has more or less turned into a boring duopoly of Facebook and Twitter.
MySpace? Delicious? Digg? Dead, or almost dead. Blogs? The frequently updated ones are mostly run by professionals. YouTube? Very successful, but only for passive viewing and not social interaction. The many, many forum sites that run on vBulletin or phpBB? Only relevant for tiny niches. Location-oriented services like Foursquare? Feel increasingly like a short-lived fad, easily copied by the big players.
Helped by the always oversimplifying mainstream media, the only social media channel most consumers really use is Facebook, and maybe they have heard of Twitter and use it passively.
It’s a pretty sad state. How can the complexity of human interaction only take place in two venues? It’s like having only a choice of two restaurants, maybe McDonald’s and Olive Garden (which, come to think of it, might even be the reality in some small towns). And don’t get me started on the walled-garden nature and constant privacy issues of Facebook and the lack of innovation at Twitter.
The launch of Google+ finally brings back some hope for more interesting times in the social space. Google has botched all its previous attempts at going social, but G+ feels surprisingly right. It’s not only powerful and flexible, it also offers a great, mainstream-compatible user experience, definitely on the level of Facebook. Oh, and Google finally figured out that it should leverage the heck out of its search dominance. Putting G+ front and center in Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, but Google somehow missed out on this aspect with earlier social projects.
After just one week, it looks like much of the Internet elite has moved on from Facebook to G+. Even Twitter seems to see a noticeably reduced post volume from the usual early adopters. It’s very understandable. Twitter’s 140 character restriction has its charm, but it’s extremely limiting when you want to share deeper content. Facebook’s overcrowded feed that mixes relevant content with puppy pictures and Farmville invites is just too distracting for serious content sharers. People who liked FriendFeed are probably already on G+ now.
So, is G+ a Facebook/Twitter killer? No, and it doesn’t need to be. But Facebook probably has already lost the elite, and if Google makes some pretty straightforward improvements (API, anyone?) it could easily take away much of Twitter’s fanbase.
G+ is a huge step towards a more diversified, use-case oriented social media environment. McDonald’s doesn’t go broke just because there’s a hip new restaurant in town. Different social environments attract different people. There’s no reason why social media should be any different.