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.

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