by Kristin Burnham

Google+ Needs to Focus on Differentiation, Not Aesthetics

Opinion
Apr 13, 20123 mins
Social Networking Apps

Google released the first redesign of its social network, which many users praised. But if it wants to compete in the space, Google+ needs to concentrate on what makes it different from Facebook.

If imitation is a form of flattery, Facebook should be flattered.

This week, Google+ released a surprise redesign of its social network. Vic Gundotra, senior vice president at Google, said in a post on Google’s blog that, “We think you’ll find it easier to use and nice to look at, but most importantly, it accelerates our efforts to create a simpler, more beautiful Google.”

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To its credit, the new format does make Google+ easier to use. What’s obvious from this redesign, though, is that Google+ is still following in Facebook’s footsteps and doing very little to differentiate itself, which is key to Google+’s long-term success.

Take, for example, the newest addition to the Google+ profile pages: a long, narrow, customizable banner photo that, yes, you guessed it—is called the cover photo. Other elements, too, mimic Facebook’s design: the new left-side navigation. The bottom-right chat feature. Full-bleed photos.

But despite its similarities, users are praising the redesign. Comments on Gundotra’s Google+ post range from, “I love the new UI!” to “Finally, a social networking site that makes […] an attractive change that isn’t confusingly annoying but has the kindness to inform me of it!” Clearly, a jab at Facebook.

But could the reason for all the praise be, subliminally, because the interface is similar Facebook’s? Facebook, with its 845 million users, is undoubtedly the prototype of a successful social network. Look at any major enterprise social network, for example, and you’ll notice they, too, look nearly the same. Why? Because the key to adoption is an easy-to-use intuitive interface, and many people cut their social networking teeth on Facebook.

Google was late—very late—to the social networking game, and it has a lot of catching up to do. It’s aware of that, though: In nearly every Google+ product release, the company is careful to point out that the social network “is still in its early days.” And every time new numbers are released, it’s always the vanity metric of “users who have joined Google+”— a statistic that actually means very little compared, for example, to the number of active Google+ users.

While Gundorta says that he hopes the new aesthetic changes make Google+ “easier to use and nice to look at,” what’s more important for Google to concentrate on is attracting more dedicated users. To do that, Google needs to tap into the fed-up and worn-out Facebook population by focusing on what makes its social network different from theirs. Only then will it truly be able to compete in the space.