Going beyond the “Google+ is like Facebook” comparisons and looking to the future

It’s natural to want to compare something known to something new in order to form an opinion. As such, a lot of the discussion about Google+ has been about how it compares to Facebook, Twitter or other online social communities. While that line of thinking is useful to a degree, the more important questions revolve around how Google+ is not like these other platforms, both now and in the future.

Some soft thinking on the latter part of the issue has provided 5 theoretical scenarios involving Google+ going forward that exemplify what may emerge as a functional difference between Facebook, Twitter, and similar. In all instances I am making the following assumptions: that Google will use Google+ to harness all of the various (and growing) Google tools in a “one-stop shop” manner; and that the idea of circles will be expanded outward from just Google+ into associates like YouTube.

  • Disaster relief: A future Hurricane Katrina hits. Teams of responders with Google+ capable (any smartphone) devices head out to save lives. As the search continues, each team member uploads geo-tagged imagery of their findings (a virtual red X) as they go. These images, beamed back to HQ, become a real-time tool for broadly analyzing the situation. Complicated for a social networking company, but not for one with Google maps and Google Earth platforms. Similar uses – both public and private – are too numerous to mention here.
  • Beyond e-mail: Your first dog just did its first cute thing, it rolled over and went to sleep – fortunately you got it on your Android (yeah, iPhone too–I own one) device. You could go to your computer, edit it and then try and remember everyone to send a copy by e-mail attachment (if it’s not too bulky) or public link (hoping you set the privacy settings right). But this is cute dog stuff — it has to go out now. Upload from your device to Google+ connected YouTube, with your pre-set privacy settings, and blast it out to your circle including everyone in the world who likes dogs.
  • Getting good eats: You’re on the run in a place you don’t know, and your stomach is getting rumbly. Taco shack or fine dining on the cheap? Open up the Google voice search application on your mobile device. Say “food,” and be instantly directed to Google+ user ratings, local restaurants offering different specials via Google+, and more. When you don’t end up with food poisoning from 3-day old sushi, you’ll thank Google+ for saving you.
  • Quick help for buying stuff: You’ve made it to the outdoor store on the edge of town — it’s almost uncomfortably quiet browsing the bicycle section. Open up your Google image search application and take a picture of that bicycle your friend told you to buy. Within seconds, Google+ owners of the bike, their thoughts about its useability in urban areas and other key information appears. And if you really didn’t do your homework before leaving, you can always check the +1s on it.
  • +1s building a better search engine: Examining an issue and can’t  find exactly what you’re looking for to give that last bit of depth? There’s only so much algorithms can figure out on their own. Now, don’t get me wrong, Google is pretty darn good at this. But, it can be better. While +1 can be viewed as a copy of Facebook’s “like” feature, it in reality can become much more by allowing the user to help refine what is most important. Building a network of +1’ing circles that includes experts on the issues (even if they have no clue who you are and never circle you back) may relieve you from re-inventing the wheel.

This handful of possibilities is just a small example of the directions G+ could go. One way or another, it’s pretty clear that Google+ will end up something more than just another place to keep track of that person you met once but don’t really care to get hourly updates from.

I’m sure I’m missing plenty. Feel free to share your thoughts here or on my Google+ post on the subject.

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