What Google+ Learned from Buzz and Wave

June 29, 2011

After a half day of using Google+ with the limited number of people I know in the field test so far, I like it a lot. I will love Google+ when and if all my friends show up and stick around.

I've been been watching Google flail around social web apps for a few years now, so what I appreciate most about Google+ is that it's a well-thought out product informed by past experience. The more I use Google+, the more I see just how many lessons Google learned from Wave and Buzz, such as:

Don't even test a social product without email notifications. One of Wave's first mistakes is that it went out to test users without email notifications about new activity. New users would receive an invite, jump in, send waves, leave, and then when others responded to those waves after they left, those new users had no idea. If they didn't return to Wave (many didn't), the replies went unacknowledged, creating a lonely experience for the people who did come back.

G+'s email notification handling is particularly elegant. It gives you the choice—on by default—to let your friends who aren't on yet know there's something going on.

Field-test the hell out of a social product before public release, with real users. Buzz's release to the public's Gmail inbox and user profile revealed sloppy privacy user interface the hard way. It had too many real users too fast. Wave was released in "limited preview:" too few real users not soon enough. Google+ is in "field testing" right now. The language here is important. "Field test" implies that a significant number of real users outside of the plex's walls are putting Google+ through its paces, and will find confusing UI around sensitive items like privacy before the product gets released to the public.

Google!! Field test the CRAP out of G+ before public release. #rememberbuzzless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

@ginatrapani I think people heard that feedback loud and clear :) less than a minute ago via web

That said, if there's any confusing UI in Google+, it's not going to be around privacy. From what I can see, Google developers erred on the side of simplicity and clarity in the privacy department in G+. The Buzz wounds are still fresh.

Don't mess with the Gmail inbox. When Buzz invaded my Gmail inbox with a flood of social-networky conversations, my first instinct was "Turn it off!" Google+ is "plus" as in "extra." It's a separate suite of products that doesn't piggyback onto Google's most successful product behind search in an invasive way.

Build a product for users first, not developers. As a developer, I loved that Wave was a rich platform for building widgets and extensions and bots on. As a user, I hated that Wave was strange and confusing. As a developer, I'm very interested in what G+'s APIs will look like, and integrating it into ThinkUp, eventually. But it appears that G+ is focused on attracting users first, then (hopefully) developers. That's the right order.

Don't make a separate monolith or an invasive add-on. While Buzz landed smack in your Gmail inbox, Wave was a completely separate monolith. Google+ is right in the middle. It's not a single product; it's a suite of products which integrate with other Google services in small, useful ways. With modularity comes flexibility, and I hope to see Google iterate each product separately as users show them what they want.

Launch with a great, functional mobile app. Not only did Wave launch without email notifications, it didn't launch with a mobile app or reliable mobile web interface. So even when email notifications did eventually appear, there was no way to reliably open a wave you got an email about on your smartphone. Frustrating!

The Google+ Android app is very well done, and it's made a few of my dual-using iOS/Android friends go all-out Android. (The iOS app is coming, and I hear the mobile web interface is good, too.) Google+ also launched with a mobile app-only feature, Huddle, which gives users even more motivation to download and install it.

Launch with a stupidly awesome "Send feedback" mechanism. Another indicator that G+ is for users and not developers: the send feedback mechanism. It sounds like a strange thing to point out, but if you're in G+, try it. Click on the settings gear icon in the top right corner and click "Send feedback". G+ "analyzes the page" and lets you select the area of the page you're referring to in your message, with the ability to highlight problem areas and black out personal information. Very satisfying.

Don't make tech authors want to write a book about it. I wrote a book about Google Wave because users needed instructions on what the hell to do with it. Google+'s interface is good-looking and intuitive to savvy web surfers—no user manual needed. Phew.

Overall I've got high hopes for Google+ so far. I look forward to the rest of my friends showing up on the service and hearing what they think.

Curious if they will integrate Huddle into Voice or Android (or if huddle will replace voice).

Brice Gilbert [+4]
Jun 29 11 at 8:27 am

Nice post! I think there are two things the + team needs to do before launching to the public:

1. Create an easy way to discover new people on the service. It takes way too much work now – you have to be a power user. And there should be Facebook import / a way to link multiple gmail accounts.

2. Improve the stream. Would be great if it showed relevant content instead of recent content.

Otherwise I’m really impressed.

Jun 29 11 at 8:38 am

I *really* want this to work because I like the model of not broadcasting everything to everyone (a la Facebook). My friends don’t care about pictures of my kid, but my parents might, just like my parents don’t really care what I did at work.

Anxiously awaiting an invite from Google… and some friends. Just to get this straight, it doesn’t make friends for you, right? Because that feature would cement it for me :)

Ben [+1]
Jun 29 11 at 8:45 am

I agree that shoving Buzz into Gmail was a bad idea. That said, I feel like some aspects of Google+ are redundant and should be improvements upon already existing Google products, not separate products.

Why do we need Huddle AND Google Talk? Wouldn’t it be better if the extra features of Huddle were just combined with Google Talk? Rename it Huddle if you want, but having two separate chat products seems like a bad idea. If done well, Google Voice could be combined with this as well.

Now we have Google Contacts with groups AND Circles? Let’s say I create my co-workers Circle and now I’m in Gmail and want to send everyone an e-mail… I have to have a separately created Contact group? Circles should be the new and improved Google Contacts, not a separate product developed alongside it. And don’t even get me started on the fact we STILL can’t filter based on Contact group in Gmail.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is even more overlap, but those are the two that immediately stood out to me. These Google+ products look and sound great (I can’t wait to get an invite and try them out for myself!), but I hope they intend to combine with/replace the current similar products. It’s far too confusing to have to figure out whether you’re supposed to be chatting through Google Talk or Huddle, or using your Contact group or Circle to send a bunch of people a message.

Jun 29 11 at 9:02 am

The idea of a manner of organization and behavior is a good way to distinguish itself from Facebook which works as a destination.

Also I want to +1 this but where’s the button? Look forward to hearing you and Jeff discuss this later today.

Ive been simply longing for Google to bring out their social network solution, and was so disapointed when wave and buzz bombed. Fully agree about the email notifications but they have to go further than simply email – we need twitter notifications, facebook integration (if we must), and maybe more – foursquare etc?

Does this earn me an early invite? (I wish!)

Jun 29 11 at 9:05 am

While awaiting my invite for Google+, I have been reading as much as possible about the service. Apart from Steven Levy’s great write-up in Wired, Gina has been covering the topic the best.

By the look of things, Google+ is going to be an absolutely killer. I was reminded of Steve Jobs’ quote during his Q&A session of the WWDC ’97 – paraphrased as “be better, not just different.” What’s better about Google+ is the ability to create your own publics (as Jeff Jarvis says and will probably say today on TWiG) and builds upon it with features people do want – group video chat (Hangout), group texting (Huddle).

It’s a combination of curating your stuff to share, and discovering more through others’ streams, Sparks, and their +1 button. It may not be enough to convince 750 million people to switch from Facebook, but I bet it will be enough to convince a large number of corporations to setup internal Google+ networks (I believe that they will release Google+ as an enterprise version like they did/promised with Wave).

Hurry up and send me an invite already, Google, and keep up the great writing about this topic, Gina.

James McCullough [+1]
Jun 29 11 at 9:06 am

That said, I feel like some aspects of Google+ are redundant and should be improvements upon already existing Google products, not separate products.

This was mentioned in earlier comments as well, but I think there’s a place for both. I don’t use Google Contacts in Gmail, but I might like to use Circles. I do use reader, and probably won’t use Sparks (though I might if it’s cool). It would be fairly easy to either combine them or keep them for wholly seperate uses. As I said above, one of the nice things about this is that it’s granular, not an all or nothing deal. More options seems better.

Ben [+1]
Jun 29 11 at 9:12 am

Thanks for your excellent analysis as always, Gina. You are one of my most valued sources of tech news and discussion.

Like many folks, I am very anxious to try out the Google+ service, and hopeful that it will succeed where other efforts have not. For the past couple of years, I have been anxious for a worthy competitor to Facebook to emerge. After initially using FB to re-connect with my friends, I realized what was holding me back from fully adopting it: the lack of control. FB offered a great service, but it also restricted access to MY data: my messages, my news feed, contacts’ info, my social graph, and shared links. It became harder and harder to access much of this data, and there was simply no way to export it for archiving or searching. For me, the last straw was when they banned an app that turned my news stream into an RSS feed. Why shouldn’t I be able to access my data how I’d like, I thought.

Google’s approach definitely appeals to me. They already offer many services to manage my data, but the data is always ultimately mine. I can always search and export my mail, call logs and SMS (Google Voice), chat logs, contact data, Latitude tracks, and photos. They also provide ample APIs for permitting developers to access this data (with my permission). I fully expect this attitude to extend to Google+. And since most of my data is already feeding into Google from one source or another, I expect my transition to be smooth.

I am encouraged by the design I’ve seen so far and the impressions of those with access. The layout is very clean and well-connected. I’m also encouraged that the +1 button will be a prominent part of the strategy. I have been using it extensively for the past month in the hopes that it would reach a critical mass. That seems a lot more likely now.

Keith [+5]
Jun 29 11 at 9:15 am

still waiting on my invite. For what I have seen I want to play really badly.

Richard Smith [+1]
Jun 29 11 at 9:21 am

I want an alternative to Facebook so badly – more than iPhone users wanted an alternative to AT&T – and I would be very happy if Google provided it. But the Facebook users I know and love will need a compelling reason to switch – and I am not sure I’ve read one yet about Google+. Boy I hope there will be one….

Ted Fulmer
Jun 29 11 at 9:28 am

I feel like I’ve been dropping this link everywhere they’ve been talking about Google+, so I wouldn’t want to leave Smarterware out of the fun.

It’s not always about the usefulness of the social technology, but how well it handles the oscillation between community and broadcast media.

Sometimes, people with a large fanbase (up at the Big Head of the Long Tail) are in a bad position to evaluate a social tool’s real utility.


Bridging the Gap: Authority, 150 connections, and the Power Law


It looks intriguing. Of course, I said that about Wave (though not Buzz).

My issue is that I’m not going to be able to use it because I’m a Google Apps user. Google says that they are going to make profiles available to us Apps users, but until they get around to it, we remain second-class citizens. That’s strange since we have set our institutions to using Google products and are being penalized for it.

Someday I’ll get to do +1 and then maybe I’ll eventually get to use G+. Until then, I’ll be here in the back of the Google bus watching all of you people in your nice plush seats. Sigh.

Brian Fay
Jun 29 11 at 9:59 am

This has a different feel than wave, and definitely different than buzz. I think people’s initial impressions that it’s Google’s better version of Facebook (or any social network) is spot on.

Honestly, I just hope it takes off because there’s no point in joining a fun new communication trend if none of my friends are on it.

Brad [+4]
Jun 29 11 at 10:03 am

I am pretty sure that the big error made with Wave was making people who wanted in wait for access. By the time I got on wave it was “old news” and the “cool kids” had moved on to the next thing. It’s hard to reach a critical mass when you let people in in small drips.

I know this needs to be balanced against scalability and testing, but honestly I can’t see why they can’t test first (with ndas) and then announce. It just sours everything for the rest of us if we know there’s a cool toy that we aren’t allowed to play with yet.

My biggest hopes for Google+ is that it allows me to have all the benefits of social software that I get with Facebook, but without that weird feeling that I have somehow time-warped back to junior high social circles.

I also hope that it brings the best of Google existing tools into the social forum– hoping for quick links to maps, emails, docs, and searches within the remit of my online communities.

Meggin [+10]
Jun 29 11 at 10:36 am

Google+ has a chance at success in social networking if it stays simple and the lawyers are kept out of the development and policy process.

Robert Bigelow [+49]
Jun 29 11 at 11:15 am

I agree that Google may have finally gotten it right with Google+, but I think much of the reason for that is expressed in the XKCD cartoon: their learning from Facebook even more than they’re learning from past mistakes. Their greatest strength is that they take what’s great about Facebook and leave behind most of the social networking giant’s greatest flaws- such as the inability to export data or their privacy issues.

Thanks for pointing out that Google lets you “send feedbackk,” it’s definitely a satisfying feature, and not one that many people have noted.

Jun 29 11 at 11:54 am
Jun 29 11 at 12:30 pm

Great blog Gina, thanks!

Kevin Niven [+1]
Jun 29 11 at 10:59 pm

Great post can wait to get an invite :)

Daryl Hunt [+6]
Jun 30 11 at 12:13 am

I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes… and of course I can’t get an invite because I’m using an Apps account, and Google+ requires an account with support for profiles.


Jimmy Blake
Jun 30 11 at 3:17 am

Good comments.

All you need now is the Google +1 button on here …

Craig Macpherson [+3]
Jun 30 11 at 3:28 am

I think this is the code for +1

(function(d, t) {
var g = d.createElement(t),
s = d.getElementsByTagName(t)[0];
g.async = true;
g.src = ‘https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js’;
s.parentNode.insertBefore(g, s);
})(document, ‘script’);

Craig Macpherson [+3]
Jun 30 11 at 3:30 am

that should be preceded by
and ended with

(function(d, t) {
var g = d.createElement(t),
s = d.getElementsByTagName(t)[0];
g.async = true;
g.src = ‘https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js’;
s.parentNode.insertBefore(g, s);
})(document, ‘script’);

Craig Macpherson [+3]
Jun 30 11 at 3:32 am

mmmm. Not showing up. Try this post here


Craig Macpherson [+3]
Jun 30 11 at 3:34 am

Dying to check the interface Google will be giving developers to implement their ideas on thi fresh athmosphere.

Jun 30 11 at 9:28 pm

Great Article Gina, thanks.
Google could have learned quicker if they had listened to me when I sent my proposals to Google Ventures and Google executives (21) to be exact. It was before Google wave was out yet. Some of the things I have read about Google+ were in the proposals I sent to Google. So maybe they finally got around to reading my proposals after all. Google wave was a concept and that is about all it was. Google buzz copies Twitter. Google use to think for themselves, but as of late it seems all they can do is copy.
I hope Google+ is better then facebook. I think it will be, but I still have my reservations.
Check out what I have been trying to start for the last 3+ years now. http://www.7slocal.com
thanks again, great article.
lance damon bliss

Jun 30 11 at 11:04 pm

I think that a lot of us are waiting for our friends to show up too. I feel like I’m the first person to get to the bar right after it opens. There’s music, drinks, but no one to chat with :-(

Jamie [+4]
Jul 2 11 at 8:17 pm

I personally would really like to see a complete calendar intergration!! I am a strong calendar user, and love the functionaliy of applications like Tungle, but hate the UI. I would really like to incorporate live streams or chats with the calendar to make organizing and planning a breeze. Take the ScheduleOne feature and totally revamp it.

Jul 4 11 at 4:13 am

Awesome post, Gina. I’m tentative to dive into + because of my Wave experience, but I’m going to give it a go and see how deep it goes. If I’m not back in a week, tell my family I’ love them.

Mike Vardy
Jul 5 11 at 8:26 am

Google requires users to link Picasa Web with G+, or don’t join G+, but not a 3rd option to just join G+ without linking their photo albums. So, I will avoid G+ for now. They need to learn more about giving choices.

Jul 7 11 at 3:44 pm

Comments are closed. Thanks for reading!