The Death and Rebirth of Google+

google_plus_logoGoogle Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has come out with his predictions for 2014 for Bloomberg TV. Don’t expect any earth-shaking revelations here. Schmidt plays it pretty safe with his prognostications:

Mobile has won – Schmidt says everyone will have a smartphone. “The trend has been mobile was’s now won.” Less a prediction than stating the obvious.

Big Data and Machine Intelligence will be the Biggest Disruptor – Again, hardly a leap of intuitive insight. Schmidt foresees the evolution of an entirely new data marketplace and corresponding value chain. Agreed.

Gene Sequencing Has Promise in Cancer Treatments – While a little fuzzier than his other predictions, Schmidt again pounces on the obvious. If you’re looking for someone willing to bet the house on gene sequencing, try LA billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.

See Schmidt’s full clip:

The one thing that was interesting to me was an admission of failure with Google+:

The biggest mistake that I made was not anticipating the rise of the social networking phenomenon.  Not a mistake we’re going to make again. I guess in our defense we were busy working on many other things, but we should have been in that area and I take responsibility for that.

I always called Google+ a non-starter, despite a deceptively encouraging start. But I think it’s important to point out that we tend to judge Google+ against Facebook or other social destinations. As Google+ Vice President of Product Bradley Horowitz made clear in an interview last year with, Google never saw this as a “Facebook killer.”

I think in the early going there was a lot of looking for an alternative [to Facebook, Twitter, etc.],” said Horowitz. “But I think increasingly the people who are using Google+ are the people using Google. They’re not looking for an alternative to anything, they’re looking for a better experience on Google.

social-networkAnd this highlights a fundamental change in how we think about online social activity – one that I think is more indicative of what the future holds. Social is not a destination, social is a paradigm. It’s a layer of connectedness and shared values that acts as a filter, a lens  – a way we view reality. That’s what social is in our physical world. It shapes how we view that world. And Horowitz is telling us that that’s how Google looks at social too. With the layering of social signals into our online experience, Google+ gives us an enhanced version of our online experience. It’s not about a single destination, no matter how big that destination might be. It’s about adding richness to everything we do online.

Because humans are social animals our connections and our perception of ourselves as part of an extended network literally shape every decision we make and everything we do, whether we’re conscious of the fact or not. We are, by design, part of a greater whole. But because online, social originated as distinct destinations, it was unable to impact our entire online experience. Facebook, or Pinterest, act as a social gathering place – a type of virtual town square – but social is more than that. Google+ is closer to this more holistic definition of “social.”

I’m not  sure Google+ will succeed in becoming our virtual social lens, but I do agree that as our virtual sense of social evolves, it will became less about distinct destinations and more about a dynamic paradigm that stays with us constantly, helping to shape, sharpen, enhance and define what we do online. As such, it becomes part of the new way of thinking about being online – not going to a destination but being plugged into a network.

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