1st August, 2011
Google has said that ‘well over 10,000,000’ people are currently involved in the ‘limited field trial’ of Google+ surely proof (if any is needed) of its almost inevitable dominance.
Google unveiled Google+ on June 28th 2011 in beta form promising full integration with its Android mobile OS and Chrome Web browser. The company’s PR states that Google+ emphasises the ability to interact differently with separate 'Circles' of friends. It includes a sharing engine called Sparks, a many-user video conferencing platform called Hangouts, a group messaging service called Huddle, and a cloud-based photo and video album service with instant mobile-upload capabilities.
So what differentiates Google+ in the market and why should Buro Happold as an engineering consultancy be interested?
For a while analysts, journalists, pub pundits and end users have wondered when and how Google might break into social media. Indeed it has taken a lot longer than expected. With the change at the top as co-founder Larry Page took over day-to-day operations as CEO from Eric Schmidt there was an admission that they had ‘screwed up’ over social media. Unsurprisingly this coincided with the company’s change in focus.
Google has tried with social media in the past. They’ve tinkered and added bits and pieces. They bought YouTube in 2006, flirted with getting hold of Twitter and before that, in 2007, there was widespread gossip that they would buy Facebook for an estimated $25bn. Incidentally at the time this was seen as a ludicrously overestimated ‘hype value’. That now looks more like a bargain, with Facebook’s user-base having grown to 750 million and the site now valued at a conservative $70bn.
Google have added bits and pieces of social media integration. They integrated tweets into search results and more recently added the +1 function for users to ‘like’ Web content. But for a market leader of Google’s dominance this tinkering looked more like lipstick on a pig than the disruptive market leadership of a global giant.
Without a proper social function Google seemed to be going the way the dinosaurs of search (Alta Vista, Excite, etc.) once Google entered the market back in 1997.
Not anymore. Google+ is a game changer.
Not only does Google+ integrate with Google’s existing, burgeoning media empire – search, AdWords, YouTube and Chrome – it also integrates with the world’s fastest growing mobile channel: Android. Combine this with Gmail, Google Finance and Shopping and everything else that ensures that Google – more than any other website – is the default homepage of the world’s Web users and you have a compelling proposition. Then consider that rather than relying on co-operation between companies (never guaranteed – check out ‘frenemies’ Adobe and Apple) to drive integration, Google has stated that all employee bonuses will be judged on their personal success of integrating their products with social media (for ’social media’ read Google+).
The timing is impeccable. Questions are being asked about the long-term prospects of both Facebook and Twitter. Outside Tim Berners-Lee’s view concerning Facebook’s ‘compartmentalisation of the Web’ there’s an increasing disquiet about the ‘noise’ that users have to put up with at Facebook. The monetisation of the platform has certainly come at the expense of user experience and users seem to be increasingly intolerant of adverts and promotions clogging up their Facebook pages. There are questions over whether Twitter has a clear plan for how to monetise the business and no obvious answers. Meanwhile, Google+ doesn’t need to address these questions, nor does it need to clog user screens with paid for content. Google’s business already benefits from strong, resilient income streams and Google+ compliments these and its presence increases their value to all – the company, end users and advertisers.
However none of this is a game changer that would greatly impact an engineering consultancy outside of the marketing and IT teams.
The reason that Google+ is interesting to the likes of us is simple. Google, for the first time in the social media landscape, allows users of its service to create groups of friends and contacts. Google+ calls this feature Circles and it revolutionises how a social media site might be used.
With Google+ Circles a user is able to separately manage personal and business ‘friends’. So one moment you can share a business update about something you’re working on with your Business Circle and the next you can share the photographs of your mate’s stag do with your Personal Circle. This apparently small advance is a true game changer as are its implications for targeted sharing, exchange and social relationships in discreet, managed groups.
Let’s take education as an example. As a professional group, teachers have a difficult time dealing with the issues raised by social media. At the beginning of the year the National Association of Head Teachers called for new rules to establish how teachers should use social media with particular attention given to Facebook. The main issue the profession faces is striking a balance between having a ‘private’ life on Facebook complete with personal photos, opinion and discourse without being embarrassed by pupils finding out too much.
With Google+ this isn’t a problem – teachers can create student Circles and then actively engage in a social network for their classes. Imagine a university lecturer. He or she would be able to separate their personal life from their academic one. They would be able to concurrently manage multiple Circles and have a ‘Class of 2011 Circle’ a ‘Class of 2012 Circle’, etc. This would mean the class would be part of a discrete social network for sharing information. Email would become redundant. Communications would be easier. Thoughts, opinion, the wealth of data on Google and Wikipedia and YouTube, blogs, personal experience would be socialised and shared. Lecture notes stored in Google+ would be viewable on Android phones and tablets or on ChromeBooks. The traditional teaching paradigm is changed.Following graduation this Circle continues – helping the university keep track of alumni and ensuring that students going out into the world get the support of an established network.
Indeed with Google+ you needn’t even be in class. You could use another of Google+’ features – Huddle and Hangouts. With these teaching could be face to face without being face to face (i.e. via webcam) and rather than relying on a glitchy silo with issues of account sign-up and sign-in (such as Skype) it would be integrated and in front of you, right there in (what will quickly be) the world’s favoured social site. This then leads you to wonder about cross-border and distance learning. Access to guest lecturers and researchers in the field would also be easy and links no doubt quickly made.
So the role of the classroom changes. Pupils at all ages and stages could benefit from the same principles within a controlled environment. As can science or any other form of research. Indeed Circles and this sort of easing of mass global communication impact all industries and all sectors.
These changes impact on the demands of real estate. It’s this that makes Google+ relevant to Buro Happold: Social interactions, social behaviour and social demand changes what we need or expect out of the places within which we live, work and play in civic and commercial society. A social media revolution which frees us of pre-existing boundaries changes the way we relate to one another and revolutionises our demands from those spaces and places. As engineers it is our role to anticipate change and to adapt our solutions so that they continue to be effective in delivering the visions of our clients which we can all share.
The world changes and with it the role of the engineer – we’re at the forefront of change.