The northbound 405 freeway came to a standstill Sunday afternoon just before Seal Beach. For the next twenty minutes I worried that Carmageddon was more than just clever name for a traffic jam and I would miss my flight back to New York. Radio reports said otherwise. In fact, it was just your run of the mill auto accident, a temporary glitch quickly forgotten. Arriving at the terminal early, I couldn’t help but wonder if the contrasting hype versus reality of Carmageddon was an appropriate metaphor for Google+ (the new social networking service from Google that hopes to rival Facebook).
Even if LA was not on your itinerary last weekend, chances are you heard about the feared mother of all traffic jams anticipated because of a temporary shut down of a 10-mile stretch of concrete connecting the City of Angels with the San Fernando Valley. Every major news outlet covered the so-called Carmageddon, which also inspired a real rant by Stephen Colbert and a comically imagined one by Adolph Hitler.
Like Carmageddon, the stories about Google+ came at us fast and furiously especially in the tech arena. Some believed it was a monumental affair. Wired’s Ryan Singel offered high praise, “Google+ is smooth fast and intuitive – a product that feels far more akin to the revolution that was Gmail.” Stephan Shankland of CNET was even more effusive, noting, “Circles is the next biggest improvement, far and away over Facebook.”
Then last Thursday CEO Larry Page reported that Google+ had gained an eye-popping 10 million members in its first two weeks. Page also noted, “we are seeing over 1 billion items shared and received in a single day.” Explaining that Google+ was “still only in field trial with limited access as we scale the system,” Page implied that once unthrottled, extraordinary growth was simply inevitable.
Fearing the worst, most Angelinos actually stayed put for a change, avoiding the 405 in unprecedented numbers. Not only was there no Carmegeddon, traffic was so light that one intrepid driver zipped around town, reporting that it was the best conditions he’d ever seen! More amazingly, the city’s construction crews finished up 18 hours ahead of schedule making this the biggest non-event since the premier of the infamous Ishtar.
While the reality of Google+ is far from certain, voices of caution are already emerging. Blogger Robert Scoble told his minions that Google+ was for “geeks and early adopters” and not your mom. C-Net’s editor-at-large Rafe Needleman shared his reservations, “I like G+ but I’m finding setting up my network kind of slow going.” And David Berkowitz of 360i posted a yellow light on MediaPost.com, noting, “Google+ will hardly win over the masses overnight.”
In fact, Google+ is using a clever “invitation only” marketing ploy that piques curiosity, especially among social media practitioners like myself. For these folks, trial is not an option but an expected mandate, one that also comes with a critic’s eye. And from this critic’s perspective, so far Google+ is underwhelming, lacking the “the gang’s all here” reach of Facebook and the disarming simplicity of Twitter.
For the mayor of LA and his constituents, the fact that Carmegeddon never happened was a triumph of perverse engineering. Scaring people off the streets with weeks of apocalyptic predictions was brilliant, pretty much guaranteeing that the worst was not to come. Leave it to Los Angeles to make headlines with a media mirage titled after an obscure video game.
As for Google+, its future is hardly certain despite smart marketing and early user adoption rates. Undoubtedly new users try it out but only a few brave souls are prepared to forsake Facebook in its favor. This lack of commitment reflects a growing sense of social media fatigue. As one worn out user noted, “I’m already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Who has time for all this crap?”
Lots of other questions remain, the most fundamental being–is there a meaningful plus in Google+ that will propel the user experience well beyond Facebook’s? So far, Circles (the primary organizing principle) is more of a roundabout than a great leap forward. Hopefully Google has more pluses up its prolific sleeves. Otherwise G+ may go the way of Carmegeddon, a much-ballyhooed balloon of hapless hype.
Note: this article first appeared on MediaPost.com.
A true observation. I also feel some social media fatique. But I already favor G+, for different reasons. It feels to be able to connect people on a broader range. It is asymmetric like twitter (you may follow where you want, don't need that facebookish friend allowance). It isn't that over-crowded with personal and private 'information.
And starting there is a kind of great catharsis for your network. Cleaning up, getting rid of clutter, etc..
As a brand you must not be there now, as a marketer you should!)
Drew is the CEO of Renegade, the digital & guerrilla marketing agency from New York City that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service." Twitter: @DrewNeisser