Predictably, Google Plus has got practically every one blogging and tweeting about it. Is it a challenger to Facebook? Will the lack of anonymity prevent Google Plus from succeeding? The views are as varied as ever.
Today I'm joining in the debate, but for a specific reason. I've been noticing that the expression "community " is being repeatedly and loosely used with reference to Google Plus and that troubles me.
Google Plus is not a community.
A colleague and I recently concluded an extensive research project that looked at the relationship between culture and thriving online communities. We wanted to understand the underlying reasons that made online communities tick (or fail). The results of our research left us with an understanding of some critical ingredients for self-sustaining community environments online. I want to bring three of those ingredients forward, to help you understand why Google Plus can't be a community.
To truly create a community environment online, audiences need the option of hiding behind a pseudonym. The keyword here is 'option'. And it can make or break communities.
The problem with Google Plus is that as a social platform, it is tied to the one identity (of you online) that already has an insurmountable amount of information about you, especially if you're a Gmail user. And you can't get away from it. From your last online purchase to that nasty email you just sent your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, Google knows it all. It's hard to be someone else on Google Plus.
Identity and purpose.
Communities thrive because their membership shares a certain identity. Some of the most successful online communities have an underlying purpose, a common vision, no matter how ephemeral.
Google Plus lacks the ability to satisfy both these needs. Given Google's reach, and the ridiculous ease with which one can join Google Plus and build a network, it's practically impossible for Google Plus to maintain an environment that shares a common identity. Purpose is another blind spot. No one seems to have any idea what to use this platform for. And the user-base is already too large for Google to be figuring that out now. Heck, even Facebook had purpose when it started (if you were born after 1975, you probably know what I mean).
Every online community has its leaders. They (leaders) perform a very important function - of keeping the community's identity intact. And in most communities, leaders are not appointed. They are chosen by the community for their contributions, their knowledge and passion. Here again Google Plus fails (and it's a major failure) - it does not allow users to build a reputation.
I could go on and on, but I think by now you've got the picture. So let's call a spade a spade. Google Plus is nothing but a Facebook alternative - with a couple of new features, and without its (Facebook's) dating cachet.
Follow Ujwal Arkalgud on Twitter: www.twitter.com/interpretivist