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Google+ Doesn't Need to be Better than Facebook, It Just Needs to be Better Than Email

Posted on 2 July 2011

I haven’t used Google+ yet. It’s a new social network created by Google. There are a wide variety of reasons Google wants to do this, which you can find using a quick Google search (ha!) but suffice it to say they are at least somewhat threatened by the success of Twitter, Tumblr, and especially Facebook and need their own “people engine.”

I’ve read lots of things about what Google needs to do if it wants to beat Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. But quite honestly, I think they’ll be succssful if they do one thing and one thing only: beat email.

First, let me give you some of the reasons email needs fixing:

1. We Get Too Much of It.

I have three email accounts and all of them have a bunch of unread messages. I know I’m not alone. My co-workers, my partner, my parents all have the same complaint. They won’t even go into email sometimes because it feels too much like work. I sometimes have the same problem. There are lots of strategies for dealing with email overload, but the fact of the matter is that if you need to solve the problem, it’s already broken.

Now, it’s odd that email can feel broken because of how much of it we get while Facebook and Twitter feel less broken despite there being even MORE updates, but that brings me to my second point.

2. It’s Not Streamlined.

When I log on to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, (or even Google Reader) I’m given a nice, continuous stream of updates in reverse chronological order. All I have to do to keep reading is scroll down. If I want to reply, I hit “comment” in Facebook or “reply” in Twitter, a box appears, I type what I want to say and hit “enter”. The end. Oh, and there’s nice pictures indicating who said what.

When I log into my email account, I’m given a list of names and subject lines that may or may not have anything to do with what the email is about. I have to assess whether I want to read the content. If I do, I have to open a new window. To reply, I may or may not need to change the subject line. I may or may not need to bring new people into the conversation via the cc list, or I may or may not need to take them out. It’s tough to keep track of who’s involved in the conversation because it’s just email addresses that you may or may not know. Which brings me to point number three.

3. It’s Terrible for Conversation

My extended family, bless ’em, are eighty or more deep and like to keep in touch over email. This will often result in extended message threads with content amounting to “lol” and “Ha, I remember that.” There’s nothing wrong with that conversation, but for the reasons I outlined above, email is a terrible place to conduct it. I at least have Gmail which threads the conversation, but my parents get an individual email for each one. It’s tough to keep track of the chronology, who said what to who when, and if you come in late enough, even know what the whole thing is about (not to mention the quoted text full of everyone’s email address over and over and over again).

It’s the same problem with boards that I’m on or work-related emails. The conversation would work so much better in a threaded Disqus group or on Facebook  (it wouldn’t work well on Twitter or Tumblr, and that’s why I don’t think either of them pose a major threat to Facebook). BUT in order for it work, all of these people would have to join Facebook and either be friends with each other OR join a Facebook group. Facebook groups are kind of terrible, and I don’t necessarily want to be ‘friends’ with every colleague I have– and beyond that, they often don’t want to have a Facebook account. So we’re still stuck in email for our digital conversation.

How Can Google Fix This?

When I first heard about Google+, I was mildly curious, but not really enthused. All the chatter was about how good it was vs Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr. And the fact of the matter is, my EXISTING online social graph is well-served by these services. I don’t need to take my Facebook contacts or my Twitter followers and bring them into a new service. They already work where they are.

But then I heard about ‘Circles’ which is where you take your Google+ contacts and put them into different groups. Doesn’t sound much different from what Facebook has tried in the past, except Facebook has never done it well and Google+ apparently does. So there’s that.

But THEN I found out that you can put people in circles even if they aren’t in Google+ and they’ll receive the information as an email.  And that’s where I got interested. I’m not sure how it works, but if I’m able to receive information via a stream (my preferred method of consumption) and they’re able to receive information as a straight-up email (their preferred method of consumption) and it works well, then we’ve fixed email. Because they’re able to keep on getting information from me the way they always have, and I’m able to get information from them in way that doesn’t feel broken the way email does.

Put it another way: I don’t care if Google+ is able to bring me all of  my Facebook and Twitter contacts, because I already have them on Facebook and Twitter, which are still working fine for me. But if they’re able to bring me my email contacts– a group of people who I need digital contact with but don’t yet have in any social network– in a better way, then I’m interested.

Like I said, I haven’t used Google+ yet. Maybe it falls short of what I’m hoping it will do. But if it does fall short, I’d like to put it out there: email needs fixing, and anyone who’s able to do that still has a chance to join the social networking race.

Further Reading: Save Our Inboxes! Adopt the Email Charter

Filed under: social media

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