Google+ is the future of social media! It's better than Facebook and Twitter and CatPaint combined! It can haz cheezburger!
Or maybe not.
The past two weeks have painted an overly sanguine portrait of Google+'s new social service. Look through the recent list of Social Media Insider columns from Cathy Taylor and myself, and it reads like a stream of stories you'll see friends sharing in Google+: a ton of stories about Google+ and a couple others about social media, though no cat pictures (sorry).
Google+ will hardly win over the masses overnight. The person who best anticipated the biggest threat to Google+ was none other than Julius Henry Marx, better known as Groucho. He wrote about sending a telegram to the Friar's Club of Beverly Hills that read, "Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member." Woody Allen cited this in "Annie Hall" to explain his relationships with women, and it's just as relevant to explain why early adopters can expect a tumultuous relationship with Google+.
Right now, Google+ is fun. Major tech stars are hanging out there. Some are even ditching their blogs and publishing exclusively on Google+, apparently to reach the 1% of Internet users who know what Google+ is. A few may think it's prescient, but to me, it's lunacy. Even if a billion people flock to Google+, you don't ditch your own branded real estate to rent somewhere else — especially if the terms of the lease can change without notice. One minute, your rental has views of the ocean; the next minute, you've got a fratboy bar on one side, a mega-high-rise on the other blocking the view, a waterfront filling up with landfill, and a chain-smoking landlord telling you to pay him every time you want a visitor.
I keep going back to Groucho, though. Think about it from the casual user's perspective. Today you get to rub elbows with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gross and Sergey Brin, and of course the indefatigable Robert Scoble. When some Ford exec posts a hangout (aka video chat, for the non-Plussies among us), you can get in easily enough. People are so gaga over Google+ that when I went to get ice cream in Manhattan's Chinatown over the weekend and ran into a friend from Microsoft, his first words to me were, "Thanks for the Google+ invite!"
Google+ is quickly getting too big for all of that. When Gmail launched, its invite-only phase lasted for more than a year, while weeks after Google+'s launch I can invite anyone I want. The initial enthusiasm of seeing Sergey Brin's travel photos has turned into the frustration of having oversharers in the stream of updates. The rush of adding your friends gives way to figuring out how to avoid those acquaintances you don't want stalking you on another network.
The people who love Google+ most are the people who act like publishers. Bill Gross, one of the most accomplished Internet pioneers of all time, was one so enamored with the comments on his Google+ posts that he announced the death of his blog. For me, I like being able to comment on luminaries' posts, but I know most comments are already ignored now that the novelty is gone. Pretty soon, you're just another name on the list, a trophy on the publisher's mantle that barely anyone will see. Sure, Bill Gross could create a "Circle" (or "list") of a dozen Internet luminaries and only address messages to them, but then hoi polloi will never get to take part. That's precisely Google+'s challenge with emulating both Facebook and Twitter at once: it will always feel too big and too small.
What about video chat, though? Isn't the "hangout" the best thing that Google has done maybe ever? The technology's great, when it works, and it will get better. It may prove to be a threat to Skype, which is now part of Microsoft and a Facebook partner. It's just as likely that people who use video chat through Google+ will want that feature and nothing else. As for the power users, you can have a focus group on Google+ with 10 people, or you can go on Ustream, broadcast to thousands (if not millions) of people at once, and have everyone take part via the comments and social network logins. There will only be so many occasions where you want to chat with 10 people (or even 20 if it scales further) but don't want a public broadcast.
Following last week's roundup of Google+ perspectives, I have two others to share with you. The first comes from an industry friend who sent me an email yesterday with the subject, "GOOGLE +++++ SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!" The body said, "What am I not getting? :)" Expect that to be a far more common sentiment as Google+ opens up to the masses.
Finally, let's return to Groucho Marx, whose dying words were, "Die, my dear? Why that's the last thing I'll do!" We're still talking about Groucho 121 years after his debut (His take: "I was born at a very early age"), so in many ways, he's still with us. Google+ isn't dead either, and dying's the last thing it'll do. Given how fast media consumption is changing, Google will be happy if we're still talking about it a year after its launch. Using it's another story, though.