WHY AND HOW GOOGLE+'S INTERFACE IS KICKING ASS
After using this for a couple of days with an inner smile, and going through a couple of expert comments about its future with an even bigger smile, I got to say one thing: All of this here is really great user interface design. It is unbelievably good for a Version 1.0. and in spite of a lot of clever comments that gave it no chance in the battle against facebook, I can see how and why Google+ starts taking off—because—it is based on just really great user interface design.
I had to smile using Google+ like I smile when I read a really well written book, that is a book that manages to say things I felt and never managed to think. And that big smile that grew when reading geeky comments about its future, came because a lot of those expert comments sounded familiar to what at times we hear when people judge iA Writer without using it. You can't understand the quality of the interface without using it. And even then: you can't see it if you're not trained to see it.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY INTERFACE?
The Interface is the product, the user experience makes the brand experience. Building better software is not about creating new features. Core features only matter in so far as they define the product in its goal. Features as such don't define the quality. And it doesn't matter so much if features are new or not. Unless they're really great, and then you should make sure that they're conceptual features (see G+ cricles, hangout) and not bells and whistles:
1. The Interface is not what but how. ("The way that you accomplish tasks with a product — what you do and how it responds — that's the interface." Jef Raskin).
2. The critical factor for UI quality is not "new" but "it works better."
3. The interface is not obvious. Just like any other specialist's discipline only a trained eye can see, or better: understand it.
I am not going to name names, but some of those smart techie, VC and social media strategist's comments I have read about Google+ show another thing very clearly:
User Interface Design standards have reached the level of graphic design, industry design and architecture, a level, where only user interface design professionals can discern outstanding work (Google+) from good work (Twitter) and average work (facebook).
And that means also that only user interface design professionals can see the strategic potential of an interface that is so far ahead of its main competitor (facebook). Zuckerberg is not an interface professional, but he can feel it from the reactions Google+ gets. He can feel that this has the potential to now only convince the early adopters, but anyone that likes his social network to be simple fast and efficient (and not just that thing that everybody uses). It's built as a threat and it works as any good threat only because it has the potential to make itself real as the threat that it is defined: To break facebooks quasi monopoly on online user identity.
WHAT IS SO GREAT IN GOOGLE+'s INTERFACE?
1. The Information Architecture: classic and rigid in its floor plan (meta/main/subnavigation) and highly user centered in its interior design (circles and sparks). The circles concept allows you to mirror the way you perceive your social network, it doesn't force us into a certain structure of social interaction (groups and forced two way interaction like facebook or asymetric interaction with often incredibly offensive @interventions)
2. The Interaction Design: Every interaction seems to have been throught trough and designed until it's latest bit. It even has room for some warmth (like the circle rolling away when you delete it) which is rare for Google's cold UID approach.
3. The Information Design: It is extremely difficult to keep a complicated user interface so light, white and free of lines, boxes and ornaments. The content hierarchy is always clear, color definitions and consistent and clear without labeling them. I am sure that the team had to make some concessions with the global redesign of Google, but I can't see them anywhere.
WHO IS GOING TO KILL WHOM?
I could go on and on about this but at this point most people will be bored. I know what you'd like to hear: Is it going to kill facebook or twitter? (Just so you know: There is nothing more ridiculous than this killer meme, it's so ridiculous that I am not even sure if I shoudl use it ironically...)
Is it the facebook killer?
Google+ makes facebook look like MySpace. And that's bad news for them. Altavista, Yahoo, MySpace and all the other long forgotten online giants have shown one thing: Size and reach online are very volatile. It is so easy to switch brands online that the biggest brands can collapse within a couple of years. You need to stay on the ball. How?
By improving the interface? Yes, but... Improving the facebook interface is going to be one nightmare job. The product is so swollen with useless features and hidden traps that the only way to compete with Google+ is going to start from scratch. And that's a luxury that facebook doesn't have. It's not going to be enough to hire good designers, facebook is flawed deep down in its universitarian symmetric friendship and groups concept (this is why it works so good for collecting old schoolfriends that you don't want to be in touch with anymore).
With Features? Not really... Facebook now quickly adding features before the work as good as Google+ is not going to help. One example: When I heard that facebook is going to integrate skype to offer a hangout feature I thought:
- Wait, but Microsoft owns Skype?
- Why can't they do it by themselves?
- Why integrating a buggy product into a complicated product?
- Are they that nervous?
And as expected that facebook hangout turned out to be crappy. You better skip a feature than adding a broken one.
There is more where this came from, but let's try to wrap this up... With its currentuser base, Facebook will be here for years to come, but if they lose theyr strong point (to be the online identity service whether you like facebook or not) they are doomed to become just a lost school friend's network (that's actually what it was built for). And who wants that? Bored/boring people.
Twitter with its 140 character limit is literally made for mobile phones. No matter how much more retina we go with smart phone displays, as soon as you work with much more than 150 characters at the time, information becomes harder and harder to handle and digest on that tiny real estate (I'm not aying you can't read long pieces, but working with big chunks of information on small screens is difficult). So far I haven't been able to use the android app for Google+, but, however awesome it might be, Twitter will always have an advantage because it is conceptually more medium appropriate for mobile interaction.
Twitter also has a conceptual advantage when it comes to sharing links. 140 characters with URLS shortening is just perfect to share one link with a comment, one image or soundfile at a time.
I am definitely going to continue to use Twitter as my public notebook, but I am not sure how much I am still going to interact with it. Google+ has a couple of clear advantages for interactive communication.
1. It gives me more control over dialogues
2. It allows me to elaborate when matters get too complicated for aphorisms
3. It allows me to edit
Sure, a lot of what I particularily enjoy about Google+ right now might be gone pretty soon:
1. There is less berating and knee jerk aggression
2. I know pretty much everyone I interact with
3. No spam or advertisement
In short: I can't see Google+ competing conceptually with Twitter. It's an entirely different beast. Twitter has a more media appropriate concept for mobile interaction, it works great for link sharing, it's more flexible and the people behind it are open eyed, sharp and smart enough to stand their ground. Twitter might suffer short term from losing a lot of digerati to Google+ that are getting tired of the 140 char diet (not every thought likes to come as an aphorism), the spam, the trolling and the tediousness of following conversations around 10 corners.
Okay guys. That's enough ranting. What do you think?