What is Google+ Really all About?

Google+ is Google’s Social Network, or at least, that is what we all think it is. It is Google’s effort to push out Facebook and to be the biggest not just in search, but also in social. But in fact Google+ is not intended to be that Facebook killer. Yes, off course, if Google gets the chance, they will definitely try to beat Facebook. But Google+ in fact is more about data: it will be part of every Google product in the future.

If you listen carefully to what Googlers are saying you will get some nice insights into what the intentions from Google are. They are going to change the online world with Google Plus and the crux is data, identification, personalization and integration.

Note: this post has been edited since it first was published in July 2011, just after the launch of Google+. The essence of the post is still the same, but information which enriches the post has been added.


It wasn’t even ready, why launch?

It was a remark made often jut after the launch of Google+: “Why did Google launch Google+ now? It’s not finished! We are missing features. They should have launched a fully working product! My mom or dad will never switch from Facebook like this.” Is this a valid point? Well maybe, if you would look at Google+ as a product in the lines of GMail, Buzz or Blogger. But you shouldn’t. This is not a product, but a project, this is much bigger. Bradley Horowitz, one of the leaders of the Plus-team, told AllThingDigital:

“We’re calling this the Google+ project for a reason. It’s not a monolithic product. This is a project and when we say “project” we mean it’s much broader in scope. This is something that will impact Google.”

Google is going places with this project. And that is why they are taking this project one step at a time. We have seen many signals in the last year or so of Google heading in this direction. They have been dropping ‘social layers’ on us. The ‘pimping’ of the Google Profiles was an apparently small but very important step but also the “shared by” options you see below search results are an indication of where things are heading. The launch of Google+ was a next step, and this time it was a huge one. But also one which couldn’t be postponed anymore. When you’ve read Stephen Levy’s article on Wired you will know that Google has been working on this project for a while now. There had been many Googlers testing this. That is nice, but at some point you’ll need to test on a bigger audience. And that time had come. To really test Google needed the ‘real users’ and not just the Googlers, so they opened Google+ for the public.

Google has been known to test their stuff “in the wild”. The black bar which we now see on top of all Google products is an example of that. In this case testing like that was impossible. Word would have gotten out immediately. So Google decided to roll it out, even though they were not in ‘full mode’ yet. But it fits in how Google works. Last week Eric Schmidt talked to TechCrunchand noted:

“We test stuff, and when it works, we put a lot more emphasis on it.”

  In the months since the launch we have seen a lot of additions to Google+ which have improved the product. Google+ got integrated in the Search Results,

Integration into the search results

When Google+ launched we immediately predicted that it would only be a matter of time before Google would incorporate Google+ in the search results as well. And they did, in different ways. Google+ posts showed up in search results, which later became official, as do the users. We saw +1 buttons in the search results, who later became less prominent and the +1-button slowly but surely spread around the web and became ‘interactive’ by first making it possible to share via the +1 button, (even though that took a while and we already had our own version) and later by even giving the readers other interesting posts on a site when mousing over the button. Eric Schmidt already hinted at what was coming. At the time of launch Google was not that personalized yet. Schmidt acknowledged that: “you won’t see much now because that technology is being improved right now.” But he also said: “there’s a lot coming.”
Other features which were launched in the first 14 months of Google+ were the possibility to ignore people, Google finally added search to Google+ and introduced hangouts, suggested users within the Knoweledge Graph area and the biggest change came when Google introduced Google+ for BusinessesSearch Plus Your World and the connection with Google Places in Google+ Local.

So what is Google+ Really about?

It’s the title of the post so it’s about time we get to the point: what is Google+ really about then? Google+ is NOT the Facebook killer which many think (or hope) it is. Off course Google would like to ‘steal away’ people from Facebook if they could. And yes, they will be doing some very smart retargeting advertisingwith it. But the essence of Google+ lies somewhere else: its about connections, data and people. With the social part of Google+ Google is gathering more data about us so they can give us our personalized web. And the Google+ project is the ‘top layer’ of Google’s integration of all their products into social. It is the new way Google looks at the web: Google looks at your identity and acts on that. In his talk with TechCrunch Schmidt said:

“The internet needs and identity server and people have been confused and talked of this many times. But the issue in the internet is not the lack of Facebook and the internet is the lack of identity.”

That sounds a bit vague, but this is about recommendations from others. Schmidt continued:

“We’re trying to use the identity infrastructure to make the Google products really interesting. The most obvious one has to do with like You Tube recommendations search recommendations so forth, so on. We can do this based on who you are accurately and more so who your friends are.”

In a later stage Schmidt acknowledged this exact point in relation to Google+ when he said:

“Google+ is an identification management tool” Tweet this quote

Where in the past Google always looked at links and connections between sites, Google is now looking at connections between people. More links does not necessarily mean that a site is better for a specific person, but if his or her friends say it is… Google’s new way of looking at it is much more social: they offer content based not just on links but also on recommendations from your social circle. We are already seeing this with “Search Plus Your World” which gives us much more personalised and with that socialised results:

And remember this: Google is going to implement this on every single product they have, this is not a stand alone product.Again something which Eric Schmidt later confirmed:

“The assumption that everything will move over to using the Plus infrastructure over time.” Tweet this quote

The importance of data: Google+ is a data source

To make their social strategy work Google needs data. Because data helps Google to figure out what kind of information they should give you back. To TechCrunch Schmidt said:

“It would be multiple sources of identity and it would be multiple sources of essentially social networks at the technical level meaning the link structure of who your friends are and so forth.”

The way they gather the data is important. And Google gets that data in different ways, some of these ways are (I’ll get more into depth about these in another post): 1. You give it to them through your behavior or what you actually tell Google 2. Google spiders the web 3. Your social circle 4. Mobile (Android!) 5. Google+ Google+. Yes, it is a data source for Google. They couldn’t get the data through Facebook, so why not get it directly from you? Schmidt already hinted on this at the D-Conference several weeks ago. There when asked about the data they couldn’t get from Facebook he said:

“Google will get social data in alternative ways”

This was before Google+ was launched…

So what is next?

We are already seeing a lot of integration of Google Products and different social elements into the Google+ structure. But we can expect a lot more. Look at the different Google products and services, figure out how they could be social and connected and you will be a step closer to understanding where Google is going. Important is to look at the bigger picture: Google will be making everything social and connected. It is a whole new way of looking at the web, looking at search and looking at social. Larry Page wasn’t kidding when he connected the Google bonuses to the Social Success of Google… The closing of specific products throughout the year shows that Google’s focus is fully on Google+.

Find more posts about Google+



Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.

55 thoughts on “What is Google+ Really all About?

  1. Well i think you nailed it Bas 🙂 One thing to add: Google+ shouldn’t (and i don’t expect it will) become a greedy walled garden like Facebook is. People don’t want that. I for one am very curious about all kinds of API and integration stuff that is coming that will allow me tie all kinds of website together

  2. I really want to like Google+, but so far it has failed to impress me.

    For example, the ‘Sports Cars’ Sparks is littered with spam links such as http:// www. thetruthaboutinsurance . com/what-do-insurance-companies-consider-a-sports-car/ (I have deliberately added some spaces in the url). But since it is probably Google search that is providing these links, these results where to be expected.

    Integrating the various Google services to provide a personalized experience sounds fantastic, but things can go horribly wrong if the building blocks they are using are already broken…

    1. You are right if they were broken, they are not, they just don’t work yet. That is what Schmidt was hinting at when he said “you won’t see much now because that technology is being improved right now.”. They will be rolling that out, we have to keep in mind this is not the full product yet.

      I do agree very much that they need to hurry up before people will run away, my guess is they know that so they will be rolling out new stuff soon (maybe even this week)

  3. Nice article. I think with this project, Google creates endless opportunities for themselves. The integration with all the Google based programmes will be, (at least I hope) great.

    1. Totally agree, I think we are on one line here. Google+ is not about the network per se, it is about the data. I do think that it is about more than search too btw.

    2. Agreed, but surely Google realizes that this initial data is skewed and will be skewed until they get a significant user base. This ‘data’ would seem to be mostly useless at this point — since it’s primarily the early adopters — i.e. marketers talking to marketers. So at what point does this data become valuable?

      1. They will off course realize that. But you have to start somewhere and with estimates of 10 million people already there they are getting that data fast. And don’t be fooled, the data is not gathered just on Google+, it is gathered around all Google products. Your searches, your Gmail, your maps-behavior, you don’t have to be on Google+ to hand Google data.

  4. Do people really need want another social network? While some points of the article are interesting, in my opinion Google+ doesn’t offer anything significant enough for average users to make the change from Facebook, where ALL their friends are.

    Sure marketers will jump on the bandwagon like they always do, but this isn’t a game changer like some are saying. Google is however utilizing social media better than they have in the past promoting their new project.

    1. Looking at the responses people don’t mind another social network… It doesn’t have to mean they switch networks. They can maintain both.

      And again, +1 is everywhere, that is the essence of this post also. You cannot miss it, when you are doing a search, its there, when you are in Gmail, its there, etcetera. And imagine you doing a search and seeing one of your friends has recommended it, the chance that you click that link has just become much bigger.

  5. A fascinating read and very thought provoking – I now find myself reflecting on what other clues are out there that might reflect Google’s ‘big picture’.

    For example, Google’s Webmaster Central Blog has very recently been posting a lot on Google + (understandably) but also on authorship markup and on their support for schema.org (they’re not alone amongst search providers in that support, of course, but maybe they’ve been at the helm?). That all seems to fit?

    I’m also going to re-read Google’s announcement yesterday of the new product search feed specs and policies (http://googlemerchantblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/important-changes-to-google-product.html) – maybe the new requirements (to be obligatory from September 2011) will hint at opportunities for social integration? Certainly they state that they are “confident that the new feed specifications will have a strong impact on the user experience”.

    OK, maybe we could now go too far speculating about every piece of information they put out there, but it’s going to be fun doing some detective work. Certainly the pace of change at Google seems to have accelerated, which of course is exactly what was anticipated with Larry Page moving into the role of CEO. A fascinating time to work in Internet marketing!

    P.S. Everyone is talking about G+ as it compares to Facebook. Having explored G+ (as an interface I rate it over FB, BTW), I think the competitive opportunities are much broader. If I were LinkedIn I’d be very nervous right now.

  6. I´m really starting to wonder how any other search engine in the future can even have the slightest chance to compete against Google, if the personalized search model they are developing, actually is working well (I can´t see why it shouldn´t). But, will good resources be “buried” in search for something, just because you have friends with different interests than you?

  7. I can’t wait to see what happens with Google+ as it develops. The current version of it already has me migrating contacts from Facebook and Twitter, and I only suspect it will pull more into it as time goes on.

  8. Great article! I think you hit the nail right on the head. For years I’ve been thinking that Google organized the web around data and Facebook organized the web around people, and I always wondered who had the right model moving forwards. Google+ is an admission by Google that social data is indeed quite important. I wrote a post last night breaking down the search signals that will come out of Google+, and how they will change SEO – check it out: http://mangiamarketing.com/how-will-google-change-search-engine-optimization/

    1. SEO? Think about this,5 years from now…google doesn’t seem to be ranking titles in Google Plus, BUT they are ranking or pulling search ‘data’ from actual content. SEO more like SEN (search engine networking)

  9. Very well thought out article, which mirrors my own opinion about Google + almost by word. Integration is the key. It is not in a Beta stage, it is in developmental stage and will keep changing as it grows and evolves over a period of time. In time being a part of this project may cease to be a matter of choice and become a matter of necessity and later inevitability, as it evolves into artificial neural network, the first of kind on such a grand scale.

  10.  Great post, very informative. I think a lot of people will find this very useful

  11. Hi Bas Ven Dan Beld
    Thanks for this great post!
    Google+ have add-on features like Business profiles that will definitely help the public to update their profiles.This new update is in a testing phase which will be be activated soon.Looking forward for Google’s new venture.

    Thanks again

  12. It appears that all this talk about google + is totally confusing, to me anyway. I have yet to understand what purpose it can possibly serve other than gather information about you. Big brother is still out there, somewhere. Google appears to be trying to compete with eBay it no longer serves as a search engine more like an advertising agency. Information is difficult to find, more a case of trying to sell everything you don’t want. In the UK it is almost preferable to receive numerous calls from imbeciles offering to reclaim mis-sold PPI cover

    1. you are so spot on! it has no real purpose except gathering data on you. That is why this article and most others about google + are confusing so many people because it does very little for anyone using it and therefore no one can define what it actually does and if they did less people wouls use it.
      Sadly a lot of people today are like sheep and have this “must have” attitude towards phones and social networks, they think if they are not on facebook or twitter or dont have the latatst i brick then they are not cool or up to date.
      It’s a pity more of us just weren’t our own people!

  13. I hate not being able to eg review a game on google play without registering with google+. I won’t be joining, just like I left facebook a few years ago. Over it. Far too much intrusion. I mean, look what google is doing with youtube – making a right mess out of layout, etc. The personalisation is gone. They want to personalise data? Well then, stop messing about with US and exerting control where we have to have something to do with YOU google before we can be ourselves online.

  14. Google+ is going to be used at a large scale. It has multiple features that easily connect people, branding product, community circle and what not. I think Google+ IS THE COMPLETE SOCIAL MEDIA.

  15. Nice article, Bas; thanks for your insights. Please note that the correct form is “of course” when you wish to imply “evidently” or “obviously”. “OFF course” would mean that something has gone out of its proper direction, as a ship going off course. 🙂

  16. Google+ is a completely different beast. Social signals are becoming more and more important and surprise surprise Google favours those that come from their own SM platform.

    Join communities, share relevant and interesting content (and if you’re lucky enough to get a comment) start a conversation. Then all you have to do is sit back and watch the +1’s role in.

    Relatively few companies have started to understand just how valuable Google+ is, start using it now and you will be ahead of the curve

  17. everything that is supose to be free downloaded then google takes you to google+ and then must log in to purchase the suppose to be free software WHY?

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