What Google+ can learn from the most hated (and loved) app of SXSW

I've talked with hundreds of people about social apps over the past 10 days and I noticed something. Nearly everyone could define what Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn do. They could even define what Highlight, a new app that was being discovered by many at SXSW. But nearly no one could define what Google+ is. Here's how these conversations went:

What is Facebook? "A place to talk to people you've met in life. You know, family, friends."

What is Twitter? "A place to listen to people you want to meet someday. You know, celebrities, news personalities, industry luminaries, the cool kids at work or school."

What is LinkedIn? "A place to network to get business or your next job."

What is Highlight? "A place to meet people you didn't know you wanted to know." or "networking for introverts." +Vic Gundotra I'd tear apart this video and figure out where the puck is going and skate toward it. Highlight might turn out to be a big flop because of a variety of reasons that have been detailed by others, but he's touching a nerve and helping to define a space that's interesting.+Paul Davison

What is Google+? Very few could answer that. Some, who are very active, can "it's a place to discuss things with other people passionate about the same things you are." Or "it's a way for Google to stitch together its services in a social way."

So, back to Highlight. It's amazing how much hate and love this app has generated over the past 15 days. Techcrunch says the real winner is the Mophie battery pack. http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/17/the-real-sxsw-winner-is-the-mophie-juice-pack/ Because Highlight sucks battery life.

PandoDaily says "no one won SXSW:" http://pandodaily.com/2012/03/12/the-year-nobody-won-sxsw/

Techcrunch had a guest poster who even explained why it wasn't a breakout success: http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/18/why-highlight-wasnt-a-breakout-success-at-sxsw/

I disagree with all this criticism, but it's all necessary. The same stuff happened when Twitter came out. Heck, people forget that it took Twitter six months to get 15,000 users. Highlight blew past that already in its first few months, yet people are already writing off Highlight and its competitors, Glancee, Kismet, Glomper, Sonar, Ban.jo, and others.

Anyway, I met up Highlight's founder, Paul Davison, on Sixth Street at SXSW along with several others. The interview I shot there shows a lot about what Paul's thinking of doing with Highlight in the future.

So, what can Google+ learn?

1. We need a reason that Google+ exists that we can tell other people. It needs to be clear, understandable, and commonly understood.
2. It's hard to define yourself when you hit up against a very entrenched competitor. So don't. Define a new space. That's why I liked Video Hangouts so much. They didn't go after Facebook, or even Skype. They let us do something new. Highlight is that for me.
3. Highlight proves that social networking innovation is NOT done (my new 900 friends on the service proves that).

Speaking of which, it's amazing that in just a week I've been able to find 900 people on a service no one was using and that has so many limitations (you can only really see people on the service if they are closer than 100 yards to you).

I wish Google would really rethink its mobile apps. Highlight starts faster, does something no one else does, and is useful in a way that Facebook is not.

Unfortunately apps like Highlight and Glancee need to be built on top of Facebook. Why is that?

1. Facebook has the best existing social graph. By far. All my wife's elementary school friends from Tehran, Iran, are on Facebook. They are NOT on Google+ or Twitter.

2. Facebook has the best existing database of identity info, which includes what things we "like." No one else has close to as much data about most of us.

3. Facebook has the nicest API so new developers like Highlight can build on top. Google+? No way. Twitter? No way, Twitter doesn't have a good social graph and doesn't have a repository of identity information about us. LinkedIn? Maybe, but it's so business focused it's hard to hit a mainstream consumer audience with it fdsa

For me Highlight shows a future where my phone will DO THINGS based on when other people, or other objects, are nearby. If I were at Google+ I'd be really thinking about that future big time and use this future to redefine what Google+ is.

Keep in mind, I know that the "X" team at Google IS thinking about this, because they are working on glasses that will show you info about your world as you walk around.

This might be my most important video I do all year. It certainly is the most controversial startup I've seen in quite some time. Hate it or love it, Google+ has a LOT to learn from Paul Davison.

Do you agree or disagree, and why? Does your answer change after you hear Paul talk in the video below?
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