Google may be deliberately singing to a different tune, but much of Google+ is necessary catch up. It is the core of Facebook and Twitter, but with better contact management. Expect additional functionality to roll out thick and fast (check-in was added within 48 hours of launch) and to stress its seriousness this time around Google is matching the look of core products Gmail and Google Calendar to Google+ rather than trying to adapt Google to existing services. Make no mistake, barring disaster, Google+ will be at the forefront of the company's efforts at web and mobile domination for the foreseeable future.
Why? Because Google cannot afford it not to be. In technology dominant companies find themselves undermined by rivals who come at them from an entirely new angle. Microsoft pushed aside IBM through software, Google caught Microsoft napping with search and the ad-supported free nature of its products and now Facebook is scaring everyone by cashing in on something people value even more highly than how much is in their wallets: their friends.
Google may have thought search made it king of the web, but its indexing efforts will be for little if Facebook's growing role as the Internet, as the common online platform, continues to grow unabated. Google has argued it can help you find the information you need better than anyone else, Facebook uses the crowd sourcing power of your friends to bring you information you didn't know to search for – information you also instinctively trust because of the source. Facebook, blips aside, has such momentum within its target audience (16-40 year olds) that the exceptions are those not on Facebook, rather than the other way around. The argument for the rest of the population we'll leave to another day.
And this is the battle Google faces. Facebook may look ugly and have a poor privacy record, but people join Facebook now because their friends are all on Facebook. Google+ needs users fast and this time simply claiming all your Gmail account holders are active members isn't going to cut it.
You can change your language, talk of community and social circles all you like, but without clear momentum towards achieving that Google+ will fail quickly. Perspective dominates social networking. Much like the cool hangouts when you were a child, everyone rushes to where everyone else is and they quickly flee those places seen to be losing popularity. Just ask News Corp, who lost $545m of the $580m it paid when selling MySpace on Thursday…
The prize for Google to get Google+ right is huge. With social networking success Google will have a full set: dominant mobile software, an emerging desktop platform, the primary index of the Web and then the social network to tie them all together. It is the glue to bind everything Google has accomplished to date. Think how easily Picasa, Google Music and more would fit into Google Plus if it can only grow large enough to make integrating them worthwhile.
Right now looking at Google+ it appears users and critics alike are split and both success and failure seem equally likely. Google knows that if it is to maintain the unstoppable momentum which has characterised the company so far it must tip those odds in its favour…