Google + Google makes the same mistake on the three questions for tech adoption

Google has just released a new social networking system that allows you to connect with people in your network… you know… social software. This is the latest in a long string of efforts by the smart people at google to try and break into the social market. A company that has been so fantastic at figuring out how to get people to click on their ads and search for things, has always struggled with the social.

Close to ten years ago, I started using my first discussion forum in a classroom and became the computer guy. I was never a computer guy before, i didn’t make any kind of transformation that i could tell… but i became the person people asked about stuff like this. In the time since, my life has moved me to a point where i’m ‘the computer guy’ for a lot of people. I do a fair amount of talking to people about what they can do with technology to help forward their projects… and i have come to realize that there are three questions you need to ask.

Do you have ten hours in your schedule, right now, where you’re thinking “wow, i really wish I had something to do”

This is always my first question. Will you commit TIME to the project. It separates the dreamers from the people who are actually willing to commit to a new project. Most projects, tech or otherwise, are mired in details that need to be sorted out in order for them to get off the ground and stay there. The technology is, for the most part, just a question of trial and error. You need to dig into it for a while, then it clears up. But you need to commit the time to it. And most people don’t have piles of time lying around that they are looking to give away. Which leads me to my second question

Are you willing to figure this out for yourself?

Faithful readers of this blog (are there faithful readers of this blog?) will know that I think of good learning as a messy process. You need to wander around an idea and get a sense of it. Figure out what it looks like. See where it stretches and where it falls down. You need to figure it out for yourself. This is true of tech as well. Following a list of instructions or watching a video is NOT going to help you when things fall apart. *TRAINING* can be nice and everything, but it’s not going to allow you to succeed with your own ideas. It can be a stepping stone, but, at some point, you need to dig in on your own.

Are you willing to train everyone else?

There are very few systems that explain themselves. Twitter is one. It’s a brilliant system that allows you to go to a single place, do one job, and walk away from it. This is what i’ve always thought allowed google to win the search engine wars. You didn’t need to understand google to use it. Most people don’t want to understand most things in order to use them. Many people are willing to understand some things… but probably not many. It’s like thinking about the mechanics of a car while you’re driving it, it’s distracting and might get you killed. Just drive the car. If you’re running a project, you have to be able to set things up so that most people can use your project without thinking about it.

What’s all this have to do with Google +?
I remember when google wave came out. It was awesome. Nothing short of a revolution in the way that you could communicate. I was playing with many of best technical people i know… and we struggled to get it. I think we came close a few times… but we struggled. We couldn’t fit it in our existing project timelines, it didn’t do work more efficiently than google docs. But you needed to put that ten hours in to get a feel for it. You had to be willing to ‘understand’ it. And, worse, i would need to teach people how to use it in order to be able to do a project with them. And, finally, as Harold Jarche just said on twitter… show me the value. It was exactly the kind of awesome thing that people aren’t very much interested in.

In its long journey towards social media supremacy (which i figure they’ll get someday) google seems to have misunderstood the very thing that made them successful. If I were to guess, I would say that they believe that their algorithms were a huge part of their success in the search engine battles. I would posit that it was the simplicity. You don’t need to understand google to use it. You don’t need any time investment… ask any librarian how they feel about most people’s ‘search skills’. And you can just send it along to your best friend, and they can use it to. (my mom, on a weekly basis, says “why don’t you just check that up on the googles Dave, they’ll know the answer”)

With google+ we have something far simpler than wave. It allows me to pull together my networks, allows a nifty video conferencing feature and to sort people according to who they are in my life. But who’s going to use them. I might. Some of my friends might.

  1. Will they carve the time out of their schedule to understand it?
  2. Will they be willing to learn it themselves?
  3. Will they be willing to teach others how to use it?

The first time i try to get my boss, or friend, or mom to use it… will it be good enough that i’ll want to try and convince them to figure it out? I doubt it.

Facebook was, when it came out, software that I hated. It was ugly and confusing… but it had one thing going for it – human nature. Grandparents wanted to see grandkids, people wanted to know if their old flame from high school was fat, and the loneliness that is so much a part of the human condition needed an outlet. What human condition is PLUS going to capitalize on? I already have a place for kid pictures, i’ve seen the pics of my high school flame, and I have all you folks to connect to (as well as some other nice ones here in charlottetown).

Google+ is cool. But i don’t think its cool enough to get people to put the time into figuring it out. It doesn’t have the leverage. As @mjmontagne just said on twitter, it might threaten salesforce… but not facebook. As part of the google suite? maybe. But i don’t think that’s what it was built for.

It’s not about how cool the technology is… it’s about humans. And I don’t understand why lots of humans would choose to use it.

23 thoughts on “Google + Google makes the same mistake on the three questions for tech adoption

  1. Great summary of the issues around “Yet Another Social Network”. I liked your thought on Twitter – that Google+ wants to be another place where we create stuff, or something like that.

    I would love it if it were a social router. That it could centralize commenting, sort of. I could point my Posterous etc. there, and point different feeds at different circles.

    But not at all like FriendFeed.

    Anyway, other than actually experimenting with Google+, I can’t see a way it fits into my life. But then, I don’t use Facebook for anything other than events, either.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I think that Scoble’s stance, as enthusiastic as it was, reveals and underlying realization that most people don’t actually need another (or better) social network. There isn’t a major pain. We definitely need more meaningful, optimizable social interactions, and those might lead to a windfall in terms of competitiveness, but firms like Google shouldn’t be aimed at building a better mousetrap because we’re not actually hunting mice anymore.

  3. Dave, I share your thoughts on google +. What surprises me about google wave, google buz, google cloud connect and now google + is the lack of professionalism on the developers’ part. For example, they set wave up and then forgot about it. They set up google cloud connect and got a lot of students who are writing APA style angry because GCC took over and added all kinds of annoying markings on MS word docs that were hidden to the GCC users and therefore could not be removed. I got a lot of complaints from students for encouraging them to work collaboratively with their mentors and editors. But, maybe things will change quickly enough so people do not get angry and give up.

    Right now, google + is beginning to look like facebook. Now, if they allowed me to view my email account/calendar/documents/reader and other applications on the same page instead of sending me off to another tab, I would be quite thrilled.

  4. Like you, I adored Google Wave.

    And then I never needed it. So I totally get what you’re saying.

    But this time you’re totally wrong. Actually, that’s not true – you’re just making a generalisation and an assumption that your feelings will turn out to be right (as they were with Wave).

    I immediately loved G+. And, more importantly, instantly knew how to use it. Because it’s pretty much exactly what I’d been looking for. My first feeling on getting into G+ was a feeling of recognition.

    The circles is exactly what me and other people I know have been looking for forever. Circles is the reason I have 3 Twitter accounts – I contain multitudes etc

    (They’re the reason Orkut is miles better than FB – I hate any social network that decides there’s only one of me, with one passion and one group of friends. As a few blog posts have pointed out recently, there are ‘circles’ on FB too – but I never worked out how to use them. I hate FB. I utterly detest it. I’ve never been that bothered about privacy online. But I do demand the right to keep my various personas separate, just as I do in real life.)

    The fact that other people won’t get them is a joy for me. No family, no neighbours, none of my wife’s friends – this is exactly what I want from a social network.

    In short, your bug is my feature. I don’t think Google have made a mistake at all. They’ve just confounded your mistaken expectations.

  5. @simon

    I think you’re crossing streams in your comment. I agree that google+ is cool. It also has the features that I require. You perform multitudes online. So do I. And you know and have thought enough about your identity online to understand that.

    How many people is that true for? My claim here is that it won’t be a replacement for a broad based social network, because it’s too complicated (to compete with twitter) and doesn’t have the ‘need drive’ to compete with facebook.

    Yes… i was looking for something too… but who else is. My friends online probably, but Ashton Kutcher? i doubt it.

  6. Hi Dave – I don’t understand the role of your qualifier questions. Sounds like a bucket of cold water for people wanting to play. Why do people need to ask questions at all? Why not just experiment? I didn’t ask any questions when I started with Twitter/Blogging/whatever. If I followed your model, I’d be writing this on paper and walking to the post office to mail it to you.

  7. Great post, particularly because you abstract out 3 bits of wisdom, I find myself ranting pondering out loud in my work.
    Here are a few:

    1. Be honest about the time it takes (I take) to figure out technology and why one might be willing to invest it or not.

    I can make a legitimate argument for say, learning a CMS. A person who wants to teach and doesn’t plan to retire in the next 2 years, needs to understand these kinds of systems. It’s a longterm investment. Think of cost-averaging.

    2. Remain sober amidst the hype.

    The lack of historical perspective in the ed tech world is interesting. Skinner’s teaching machine was supposed to revolutionize education, as was TV. The vast majority of content on the web requires basic literacy. The ability to read is more important than ever.

    3. The market, not improving education drive educational technology advances.

    Solve poverty and structural inequalities to improve education; a new widget is just a distraction.

  8. @George, I sometimes ask a question and then immediately search for the answer. I’m usually faster at finding answers than those that I ask. Some people learn by asking and some by experimenting. I learn by trial and error, but that’s me. I wonder if there is an effective way to learn new technologies.

  9. Hi George. You do follow them.

    The biggest obstacle that i find for people wanting to explore new technologies is not understanding the commitment they are getting into. I’m trying to help prepare them for success. If you don’t have time to commit to a project, it’s going to have a tough time succeeding. You commit huge amounts of time to the projects that you work on. I know. You do my work too. You do learn how to do the stuff you are working on… and you are more than willing to teach others.

    What do you think we should be doing when people ask us about new ideas they want to try? What would your three questions be?

  10. Interesting additions Suzanne. I’ve often wondering how we ended up with learning MANAGEMENT systems and whether it was for direct marketing to senior administrations. (though i know many administrators who care a great deal about learning and not just to ‘organize it’)

  11. @Dave. In my singular view of the world, we’re dealing with networks and network potentials when we adopt new tech.

    So, for example, in an online course, we decide the range of possible connections learners can form through the use of hard (use moodle) or soft/coercive (follow these steps, read this article) control techniques. With your three questions, you are defining connection potential up front. What do you gain from doing that? Why not let people try Google+ and decide if they like it? Why not let the feedback inherent in online systems (“I don’t have time for this” or “wow, that’s kinda cool”) determine which connections are enabled and which are discouraged?

    Since your questions are a bit negative and paternal, why not frame your questions like a used car salesmen:

    1. Do you want to have more friends than ever possible?
    2. Do you have interest in learning more and becoming more knowledgeable in XX field?
    3. Do you want to be happy beyond your wildest dreams and always have someone to talk to on twitter/facebook/g+ on lonely friday and saturday nights?

    Feed positive energy Dave….

  12. George:

    You asked: Why do people need to ask questions at all?
    Who are the “people” you’re talking about? I observed technology enthusiasts (I’m one of them ;)) make a lot of assumptions about “everyone else” and their motivations and interest in technology.

    You asked: Why not just experiment?
    Perhaps because some people have neither the time nor the inclination to. I’m also not sure why I should assume experimentation is inherently a good thing.
    34 yr old woman says: I have 2 jobs, and 3 kids to tend to, what’s the value proposition?

    You said: I didn’t ask any questions when I started with Twitter/Blogging/whatever.
    I started using them and still asked questions, and still do. Isn’t that what experimentation is about?

  13. I think you might be making fun of me george… i note that this kind of sarcasm comes from those putting off writing their thesis…

    My critique of google+ was for how the project was conceived, not for how individuals will approach it. I would not discourage anyone from checking it out…

    George Siemens approach to answering people’s questions…
    “hey george, google+, should i check that out?”
    “You should go check that out for yourself!”

    My approach
    “hey dave, google+, should i check that out?”
    “well, it depends, if you’re going to, make sure you set aside some time to figure out how things are going to work for you. It’ll take some fiddling to get the circles thing to work for you, and if you’re going to use it for projects, you’ll have to make sure that everyone in the project learns how to use it”

    Or am i missing something? :)

  14. @Suzanne – asking questions such as “how does this work” or “what can I do differently with this new tool” do not limit options the same way as “do you have time to teach others”. The first set of questions leads to more exploration. The three questions Dave posits lead to filtering. I’d like the system to filter, not the advice given before people start.

    In terms of “why ask questions” – in the context that I was responding, I was obviously replying to Dave’s three questions. I wasn’t stating that we should never ask questions about anything. I was replying to the theme of Dave’s post of “three questions to ask before you use tech”. In terms of people – I mean all of them that are about to use a new tech.

  15. I love blogs because they allow use to share our opinions publicly and encourage others to think. However, whatever opinion we may have, it is our truth. No one can take our truth away from us. So while it’s nice to share ideas, I think we may benefit from accepting diversity and trying to see why certain opinions stir something inside of us and make us want to lash back.

  16. Good questions and good discussion of this topic Dave and others. I finished my thesis long ago, but my learning did not stop. The new tools make it possible to stay in touch with ideas in a variety of ways. I can see the reason that google, facebook, and others want to create new tools and improve on old tools. Learning to use the new tools seems to me to be intuitive–children do this all the time, but finding the time to play with new tools that have not been fully tested out creates headaches and takes time away from other things busy people must do everyday. As Dave suggests, learning and using new technologies productively takes time, developing and locating content takes time, interacting with students and networks takes time, learning new technologies takes time, and then there is family life….It will be interesting to see if google + is more useful for collaboration than other formats.

  17. hey Dave,

    Agree & Disagree. People will gradually move to google+ because, as you stated Facebook is confusing and (me) bloated and poorly organised. Time will tell but good on google for trying again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>