Google has released yet another TV commercial to help demonstrate the features of its new social network, Google+. Like the other marketing efforts, the ad is slick, polished and even sort of funny. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates everything that’s wrong with Google+ in a just minute’s time. In fact, if the video hadn’t been posted to Google’s own YouTube channel, you may have almost wondered if it was a parody put out by Facebook PR.
The ad, published the day prior to Thanksgiving in the U.S., tells the tale of two Google+ users, Kyle and Lisa. In it, Kyle places Lisa into his “Love of My Life” Circle while Lisa puts Kyle in her own unfortunately named “Creepers” Circle. Oh, poor Kyle! Over time, though, it becomes clear that Lisa and Kyle’s relationship changes, as the ad shows Lisa moving Kyle into a variety of other Circles, including “Book Club,” “Guys With Cars” (shallow much, Lisa?), “Ski House,” “Maybes” and finally, “Keepers.” Cue the awwwwww’s, right?
What the ad has so effectively demonstrated is the incredible amount of work it involves to constantly qualify our interpersonal relationships. To be fair, neither Facebook nor Google+ have gotten this 100% right. Friendships aren’t binary (friend or not) as they are by default Facebook, but they’re also not meant to be obsessively organized into groups like they are on Google+. Relationships change. They’re dynamic. And herein lies the problem with this aspect of the Google+ value proposition: Circles don’t work.
When Google+ launched, Circles were introduced as a means to give you back the privacy and control that Facebook once stole from its users. (Well, prior to the launch of Facebook’s own automatic smart lists feature, that is – take that, Google+!).
When you share with a Circle of “Friends” on Google+, you know your boss, mom, and various frenemies won’t see the update. Guaranteed.
But not only do the “normals” hate making lists, even the geekier among us will eventually encounter something I once dubbed “Circle Management Overhead.” Drag-and-drop, however cute the user interface, is a poor substitue for automation assisted by intelligent algorithms. Heck, even Google knows this, which is why it acquired Katango, the automatic friend sorting service, noting how impressed it was by Katango’s “innovative approach to making your social circles smarter.”
While Circles themselves may be a selling point for Google+ (at least in Google’s mind, if not yours), the Circle Management demonstrated so aptly by “Lisa” in this video is actually a drawback to the whole labor-intensive system. Which is why this Google+ ad is so weird. Why show this off?
At any given moment in time, Lisa knew who Kyle was to her, but her social network did not. That’s not a feature to brag about, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Google, to be sure, is working on smarter Circles now. In the meantime, it might be better if Google+ marketing focuses on something that Facebook isn’t doing a better job with, like comparing Google+’s 10-person video chat “Hangouts” with Facebook’s Skype chat, for example, or the Google+/YouTube integration, or the….umm….the, uh….umm….a little help here?