Google+ is going to be huge! No, it’s not!

I like Google+. I like it because it’s clean and well-designed. I like it because it feels fresh – like moving into a new neighborhood after the one you came from got taken over by fake farms and endless profile picture changes. But most of all I like it because it’s quiet.

Since it’s in limited Beta it means it’s still mostly populated by early adopters. So I can interact with brands like Mashable and Smashing Magazine and feel like I’m part of the conversation – something you can’t really do on Twitter and Facebook with mass-brands like that.

This thing is going to be huge

But alas, this will probably not last. Sooner or later the floodgates will open, and before you know it the once pristine Google+ neighborhood will once again get overrun and fall prey to the meaningless graffiti that also transformed Facebook from social network to chaotic metaverse. Rocky Agrawal sums it perfectly in When Google Circles Collide:

[Google+] doesn’t do anything to solve the biggest problem with social networks today: increasing the signal to noise ratio.

So the masses will descend, and we’ll be back to hunting for pockets of information among the endless streams of data. I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

Well, maybe it won’t be such a big deal

I could be wrong. The smart money might actually be on betting that Google+ never even gets enough adoption to become the loud mess that Facebook is today. The reason for that lies in an article that made the rounds a few weeks ago, A Brief History Of The Corporation:

Take an average housewife, the target of much time mining early in the 20th century. It was clear where her attention was directed. Laundry, cooking, walking to the well for water, cleaning, were all obvious attention sinks. Washing machines, kitchen appliances, plumbing and vacuum cleaners helped free up a lot of that attention, which was then immediately directed (as corporate-captive attention) to magazines and television.

But as you find and capture most of the wild attention, new pockets of attention become harder to find. Worse, you now have to cannibalize your own previous uses of captive attention. Time for TV must be stolen from magazines and newspapers. Time for specialized entertainment must be stolen from time devoted to generalized entertainment.

What does this mean? Google+ time has to be stolen from Facebook time. And good luck with that, Google. It’s all because we have this stupid thing called limited time:

Each new “well” of attention runs out sooner. Every human mind has been mined to capacity using attention-oil drilling technologies. To get to Clay Shirky’s hypothetical notion of cognitive surplus, we need Alternative Attention sources.

So that’s the real problem for Google. Theirs can’t be an acquisition strategy, because most people who are on a social network are already on Facebook. So it will have to be a migration strategy. As Dare Obasanjo put it:

For Google+ to be successful it means people will need to find enough utility in the site that it takes away from their usage of Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps even replaces one of these sites in their daily routine. So far it isn’t clear why any regular person would do this.

Google+ wants Circles to be the thing that convinces users to switch. They’re betting that enough users will want to share different things with different groups of people that they’re willing to give up their networks and start a new one. I just don’t think that’s a strong enough argument. Coming back to Agrawal’s point: the real problem is how to get better signal out of the noise of social networks. That’s a need that no one has filled yet.

There’s a parallel to the tablet market here. Trying to compete with the iPad is absolutely futile – you will lose. Instead, HP has a very smart strategy with their TouchPad:

HP acknowledged Appl’s dominance in the tablet market, but said Apple wasn’t its target with the TouchPad.

“We think ther’s a better opportunity for us to go after the enterprise space and those consumers that use PCs,” said Kerris. “This market is in it’s infancy and there is plenty of room for both of us to grow.”

They looked for a gap in the market, and they’re working actively to fill it. So it’s certainly not impossible that enough people migrate to Google+ for Metcalfe’s Law to kick in and we start to see some real network utility. But it’s going to be a tough sell unless they find that real gap in the market.

So which one is it?

Which way do I want it go? I’m on the fence. For now I’m enjoying the peace and quiet in the new neighborhood. But that can also get boring pretty quickly. So I want my cake and eat it too. I want Google+ to scale and at the same time figure out how to solve the signal to noise problem in social media. Is that too much to ask?