Plus Or Minus

29 09 2011

In one of the all-time great marketing battles, Tastes Great and Less Filling duked it out in the grandstands. “Tastes Great!” “No, Less Filling!” It was an impassioned verbal tug of war, but in the end a truce was drawn: Miller Lite was able to keep everyone happy (and at least for the moment, beer flowing). If anything, it was comic relief, a frivolous battle that no one really cared about. Just play ball and pass the beer.

But not all wars are so easily resolved. Take, for instance, the battle for internet supremacy between Facebook and Google. Not content to just be the kingpin in their respective areas (social and search), both want to encroach on the other’s territory. Earlier this year Facebook added enhanced messaging capabilities, giving everyone an @facebook.com email address (if you wanted it), as well as limited web search capabilities courtesy of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

And then there’s Google, whose “Don’t Be Evil” motto apparently does not include efforts to completely dominate the web experience. The one thing missing from Google’s portfolio is social.

But it’s not for lack of trying. Recent attempts with Google Wave and Google Buzz fell so flat, though, that they became a source of embarrassment. So when they unveiled Google+ this summer, I promptly leaned back and yawned. What could Google possibly have dreamed up this time in another misguided effort to lure people away from Facebook?

And before we continue, someone please cue Take me Out To The Ballgame. Yeah, the part about three strikes and you’re out.

Turns out that Google+ is Google’s best effort yet, and they have been aggressively rolling it out of beta and into the general public’s computers and smartphones.

But in spite of the fact that it has features that caused Facebook to stand up and take action, I still don’t think it’s got legs. Yes, FB is vulnerable, and the small round of changes it unleashed last week caused an uproar among many of its dedicated 800 million users. Privacy. Ease of use. Managing and curating. These are all weak spots that someone else could capitalize on. And when the new Timeline goes public next Monday, I bet there will be another uproar from folks who cannot find their cheese.

The real question, though, is this: Why should I start all over with Google+ when all of my friends are on Facebook? It’s kind of like going to a much smaller party down the street when the one you’re at is already rockin’.

And therein resides the problem. Google, after two massive failures, is very late in this game. And just because it is the elephant in the living room does not mean it can muscle its way in. Sure, the idea of Circles probably has merit. Being able to curate and manage is important. But in my very best Seinfeld voice I cry, “But I don’t wanna change!”

In the interest of fairness, though, I have taken it for a test drive. I understand there may be as many as 50 million others doing likewise. I downloaded the G+ app to my phone. And, as is par for my course, I set out to break it.

Not that I am malicious or anything (he says with a snicker). No, I always try to find the weakest spot in an application, and then determine if it’s worth any future bother.

The results? I give the G+ app a C+. It crashed three times while trying to shoot a pic from with the app. Each time I had to shoot the picture the regular way, and then attach it within the app. That’s annoying, especially if you’re a photobug like me. I am forever posting such things to my FB Wall. I will, however, give it props for geo-locating me 100% correctly (if you want everyone to know your precise location). And my lunchtime check-in at best Thai was also perfect. But if the idea of a mobile app is to enable people, then it shouldn’t be handcuffing them in the process.

While I will likely continue using my Google+ account off and on, I just do not see it replacing my Facebook. Why? because Facebook is not broken. Is it perfect? No. But if anything, Facebook has stolen a page right out of Google’s playbook: copy whatever the other guy does better, and then bury them.

That’s what I fully expect to see once Timeline is rolled out to the masses. I suspect we will find ourselves so enamored of the improvements that we will quickly forget the learning curve associated with it. I suspect we will fall in love again with Zuckerberg. And I suspect that Google will go back to doing what it does best: Search.

Because there are no fourth swings in this baseball game.

Dr “Yer Outta Here!” Gerlich


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