Google+: No Exit

One of the only drawbacks of the Internet is that it dispels the illusion of independent thought. So, naturally, the WSJ ran a story yesterday about the increasingly intrusive advances of Google+, while I struggled to finish what I thought was a novel piece about how Mountain View’s pet social network, while struggling to match Facebook’s user numbers, could, with better execution perhaps, become both a blueprint for a truly cross-Web social experience and a chilling exemplar of how far Google would force our data thru its social portal. Well, I’ll post it anyway.

RE: the Wsj story, MG Siegler has predictably argued that Google +, like Windows 8, is the emperor’s new clothes, a lackluster project that is rarely called out (not true – it received a tongue-lashing from Farhad Manjoo at Slate). It can’t match Twitter in particular when it comes to the levels of engagement and ease of use, despite its nominally huge user base, which, while huge, obviously lags behind Facebook’s. All of this is basically right, but it misses the point because it overlooks how creepy unstoppable Google+ is. The question isn’t whether Google+ is a dud; it’s whether it can be stopped before it changes how the entire Internet works.

Do you use YouTube or Gmail? Chrome? Then get used to Google +. Like its spy movie partner in arms Google Now, it is blazing a trail toward a future (on Android at least, and that’s not nothing, what with Android accounting for 3/4ths of all smartphone activations) where your data is massaged by a free form service that know nothing about the sandboxes that separate apps a la iOS. Where does Google+ start or end? Unlike Facebook – the ultimate walled garden – Google+ is hard to define. It is a comment stream like Reddit, a reader like Flipboard or Currents, a public profile like Facebook, and a surefire steady stream of Gmail notifications if you make any sort of controversial or insightful comment.

What’s more, it is slowly creeping into the basic DNA of Android. The Nexus devices all come with Google+ preloaded, and even Samsung has begun pushing its Jelly Bean updates out with Google+ preloaded, too. Even beyond it becoming one of those dreaded uninstallable “core” apps, Google+ could become less like a traditional “app” and more like a largely unseen OS component that simply grabs info and modifies your social presence/profile. While I think that such a service would be cool, it would also be incredibly creepy

It isn’t clear whether Google+ can be avoided, especially considering how adept Google is at providing Web services. It still far outshines both Apple and Microsoft in this regard, which puts in the position of forcefully bundling its already stellar services with its perhaps less than optimal (so the conventional wisdom goes) social network. Like almost everyone I know, I rarely dabble into Google+, but I have done so more now that I use the Nexus 4 not only as my phone but as my primary computing device along with my Samsung Chromebook. It reminds me of a hybrid of Flipboard and Twitter, with lots of email spam.

That doesn’t sound so appealing, but with Google Glass on the horizon, and with the growth in mobile data speeds allowing for better video/chat apps like Tango, I feel like a truly “real-time” social Web is just around the corner, and Google+, which seems almost creepily designed to be a liaison between different apps, Google-made or not, could be one of its key pivot points. Searching with Google, or using YouTube or Gmail or Chrome or any of its other myriad services, will eventually be synonymous with signing over information and permission to Google+ and the new Web it is trying to create.

-The ScreenGrab Team

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