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Google Plus misdirection - Mobile strengths and five predictions

Everyone's weighing in with an opinion about Google+, Google's new social network platform.  I'm not going to rehash things that everyone else has said - for that you can look at what's being said in blogs and on Twitter - but there are a few points that are worth thinking about.

I remember years ago seeing Doug Henning on Broadway.  He was a great magician and a great showman.  His biggest skill was getting everyone to look one way and not see what was happening somewhere else.  In magic circles this is called misdirection.

I think that Google is pulling off a tremendous amount of misdirection with Google+.  Everyone's spending their time writing and reading about whether Google+ will beat Facebook or Twitter, and wasting hours trying to get a Google+ invitation.  In the meanwhile, there are some very significant things that noone's noticing:

First, if you look at all the people who say they love Google+, you'll see that most of them love +Hangouts, Google's new group video-chat system.  +Hangouts is an amazing innovation, both in the technical implementation and in how it's productized.  But +Hangouts has very little to do with the rest of Google+.  If Google had never introduced Google+, but had simply taken +Hangouts and released it as Google Group Talk, it would have gotten the same rave reviews.  By packaging it in Google+, Google has bought themselves positive comments about Google+ from everyone who likes +Hangouts.

Second, if you look at the people who don't like Google+, you'll see that most of them relate to +Circles, which is Google+'s primary Facebook/Twitter competitor.  +Circles tries to be innovative with the ability to group contacts into categories, but this is already available in Facebook and Twitter (particularly some high-end Twitter clients), and it never really took off.  Same for +Sparks, Google's answer to Twitter's hashcodes.

Third, very few articles are talking about Google+'s mobile features.  The instant upload and sharing feature has been done a lot, most recently by iCloud. Integrating with Picasa and +Circles is nice, but not that big a deal.  I happen to think that +Huddle is a great idea, but it's not all that useful until everyone's pizza buddies are also on Google+, and Google is limiting users for now.

Most importantly, however, is that noone's noticing Google+'s biggest mobile innovations.  Google didn't even discuss them in their original press release, and only announced them later.  These mobile features enable you to see social network updates that relate to places near you, and to see friends that are near you, and to see updates and friends on a map.  This incorporates a FourSquare-like check-in feature, mainly to motivate people updating their location so that they can be found by others nearby. And they made this available in an Android app and also in a mobile browser interface.  These features are the big "hidden value" in Google+, but they're not that useful until Google+ is opened up to more people.

Here are some concrete predictions:

1. The biggest use of Google+ will be +Hangouts and mobile location-based sharing and friend-finding.  Once Google opens up Google+ to the masses, they'll have an update to Google+ Mobile that will enable easy +Huddle-ing with people in your location or who have commented on places near you.  And these mobile features of Google+ will motivate people to use +Circles.

2. Meanwhile, Facebook will come out very soon with a much stronger mobile system.  Besides checking in to locations (which they already have), they'll support finding contacts that checked in near you, finding new friends nearby (with permissions), finding updates and reviews and pictures of nearby locations, and ultimately location-based Facebook apps.

3. In under a year Google will release a mobile version of +Hangouts.  Technically this isn't a killer - it means having a server receive video feeds from users and integrate them into a single video stream that will be shown on user screens. But it needs to be done well.  Maybe they'll acquire a video conferencing company along the way.

4. However, Facebook will beat Google at mobile video chat, either by working with Skype, who already has video chat coming to mobile, or by acquiring another video chat company.

5. In about a month Google will introduce social games on Google+, including on mobile. Don't forget, Google Ventures invested heavily in Zynga.  And Zynga has been investing in mobile.

Do I think that Google+ will succeed? Yes, I do. But it'll be because some of the components of Google+ will succeed, while others will fail and disappear.  The best thing we can do in discussing Google+ is to discuss specific components and not just the whole.

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