Google Social Take Three: How +1 Could be Different

As Google gets ready to roll out its latest attempt at getting social right, it's hard to type a for realz around the web without hitting profound and well-deserved skepticism from everyone who remembers Google Wave and Google Buzz. I know both of these projects are technically still around, but since no one ever figured out how to use Wave and no one uses Buzz on purpose, they might as well be referred to in the perpetual past tense.

Wave, as you'll recall, was supposed to be the big paradigm-shifting tool for online communication and collaboration. The thing we were all supposed to start doing instead of email. The thing I'm pretty sure they named after tech from Firefly and The Batman. I got on Wave in November of 2009 and was immediately excited about what it might enable once enough of my friends and colleagues became adopters. I pictured free, efficient planning capabilities in real time with that classic Google ease, an intuitive system for creating and critiquing just about anything. Over the next six weeks I added contacts and sent invitations that found a lonely place in Google's queue. By New Year's Day I'd Waved my last: "not sure I'm doing this right -- but thought I'd give it a shot. Happy New Year!"

We all know how 2010 turned out for Wave, but there remains a huge potential for the kinds of things Google was trying to do with the product. In Wave's wake, Facebook became even more entrenched as the place for sharing everything, even the kinds of messages we used to get on email. A few weeks ago came the news that Facebook had finally displaced Google as the most visited site on the web. In 2010, and for the foreseeable future, the social web was and is Facebook. For many people, really, Facebook is the web. Google was right about the death of personal email, but with Wave's failure and Google's inability to replace it with something better, they let Facebook deal the blow. Google's long-term vision casting may have been right on the nose, Tesla-like, but we'll never know what Wave could have been with more time in development, a decent marketing campaign and a clear, intuitive user interface. Failing to deliver on the most basic levels, Wave became the answer to the social communications question no one outside of Mountain View ever asked.

Google Buzz emerged last year as a tab inside of Gmail (ironically, the place where Wave should have been in the first place). It was supposed to be Google's answer to social sharing, if not a Facebook and Twitter killer, at least a neutralizer. Instead, it's an afterthought on good days. Does anyone consciously use this product? I don't even think about it, and I'm active in my Gmail account almost every day. I have some things replicating on Buzz, but without looking, I couldn't tell you what. My guess is feeds from my Twitter page and

Now Google is getting ready to roll out what they're internally calling "+ 1″. If + 1 is what insiders think it is, 2011 could very well be the year Google figures out how do social its way, the right way, and across its already-social platforms and search services. Here's why:

  • the architecture is light and unimposing: + 1 is a toolbar for sharing content across Google's web properties, and the sharing is pegged to contact groups called "loops" that users create. I imagine, of course, an integration within Gmail, and that, before long, you'll be able to share something to your loops from any website just about as easily as you can currently like or share them through omnipresent Facebook integration.
  • once you create your loops, no more bothersome, clunky cutting and pasting or clicking on those "email this" buttons. Just loop it. Also, no more trepidation about your poor taste in music, 3rd grade sense of humor, or political eccentricities being broadcast across Facebook. Create Bad taste, 3rd Grade Sense of Humor, and Party Hack Loops to finally control who sees what with ease.
  • (I know you can filter who sees what on Facebook, and you can share things with everyone except so and so. But that takes time. Annoying time. The point of all of this is to be fast.)

If Facebook killed email in 2010 (even without the new Facebook email project, which most users haven't yet adopted, interactions on the social network likely replaced most of chit-chat email you used to get, didn't they?), +1 might actually push the pendulum back if sharing on the platform sends simple, preview-rich email prods to people in your loops.

Google knows that no one really wants another full-fledged social network. That's the one thing Buzz got right. Give me a smart toolbar, give me tools to promote good content quickly and in targeted ways. Come on, Google. We go way back. I mean, I remember when you were the Internet like AOL before you. From what I've seen of +1, I think you could actually get this right by playing to your strengths and making social sharing really, really simple. No privacy concerns, no looking fat in pictures. Just helping us enhance the social act of sharing all of that content we create and you, for now, still organize. Make curation as easy as consumption and we'll beat a path right to your social door. For realz!

This article first appeared in The Daily Cocca.