An Evangelist Makes the Case for Google+

Guy Kawasaki, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor who first rose to notoriety as chief evangelist for Apple back in the early days of the Macintosh, has found something new to evangelize. He’s just published an e-book about Google+ called What the Plus: Google+ for the Rest of Us. At a trim 180 pages, including lots of screen shots, it’s a fast and easy read, and it’s the best compilation of tips and tricks for using Google’s social sharing system you are likely to find.

Kawasaki’s timing is excellent. It was conceivable, early on, that Google+ would flop the way earlier social products from Google did (think Google Buzz and Google Wave). But that moment has passed. Now Google+ is a force to be reckoned with—and if you’re like me, you’ve been puzzling for a while over whether and how to work it into your existing social media routine. Kawasaki has some great answers to that question, which I’ll sum up in a moment.

But first, I want to back up and look at the bigger picture here. How did Google get to where it is today? Certainly not by conceiving new products from scratch. There were search engines before Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with Page Rank, the algorithm that finally made sense of the Web by measuring the strength of connections between pages. Targeted, keyword-based, pay-per-click advertising, the business that made Page and Brin multibillionaires, was first developed by Overture and Yahoo, then copied and perfected by Google. There were plenty of mobile operating systems on the market before Google put its weight behind Android; plenty of browsers before Chrome; plenty of laptops before Chromebooks; and so on.

Guy Kawasaki's Google+ profile

For all its Googley zaniness, in other words, Google isn’t really about inventing things. The company is a massive engine for applying pure power—both brain power and computing power—to hard problems, and coming up with solutions that often (but not always) work better than existing alternatives. It’s like the old advertising slogan from the chemical company BASF: “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.”

Which brings us back to Google+ (the name is pronounced, and sometimes written, as Google Plus, but I’ll stick with the company’s spelling, whose geekiness is part of the point). Before 2011, the world already had a perfectly serviceable social networking platform—it’s called Facebook. But Google’s engineers saw how much time people were spending there and decided they could come up with something better.

Under the hood, after all, Facebook is just a bunch of servers and software algorithms. And if you work at Google, then a big part of your identity revolves around being the smartest person in the room when it comes to servers and algorithms. So it would have been shocking if Google+, which opened to beta users last June and to the general public in September, had not matched or outperformed Facebook feature by feature. On a technical level, it is unquestionably a better system than Facebook for connecting with people and sharing stuff, for reasons Kawasaki enumerates at length. It’s got many novel features, such as the “circles” concept, that Mark Zuckerberg might copy if he were starting over and didn’t have an eight-year-old legacy system and the habits of 800 million users to deal with.

But whether any of that matters to the average Internet user is a very different question. One analyst, Paul Allen, estimated that Google+ had 100 million members as of early February—an impressive number, but still 700 million behind Facebook. To take the lead away from Zuckerberg, any new social networking system would need to outdo Facebook not just on features, but on fun. And understanding what makes new technologies delightful to use has always been Google’s weak point. I’d argue that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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