Why things become popular

I’ve been playing with Google+ for a few days now, and find myself thinking: Is this going to be the platform? Are people going to flock to this social network, replacing Facebook and maybe Twitter?

While I was on my bike, riding in the dutch mountains (aka headwind), I thought of a way to look at this, by comparing this to other succesful sites and why they became succesful. I think the reason for the success of many online services is: they make things easier. Easier to communicate, to express yourself, to find things. Let’s look at a few carefully picked examples ;–)

  • Flickr made it easier to share pictures. Before that time, most services were ‘closed’, in the sense that they assumed you didn’t want to share your pictures with the world. Flickr turned that around.
  • Youtube made it easier to post a video online. Before Youtube, it was very, very hard to embed a video in a web page.
  • Blogging software made it easier to publish.
  • Facebook made it easier to share and communicate with your friends. Despite all the complaints many people have about the usability of their interface, it managed to attract 600 million members.
  • Twitter made it easier to publish, even easier than blogging.
  • eBay made it easier to buy and sell.

And easier can also mean cheaper.

  • Skype makes it cheaper to communicate
  • Whatsapp makes it cheaper to communicate

I could go on, I think, but you get the picture.

My concern with Google+ is: Does it make anything easier, or cheaper, in any way? So far, I’m not sure of that. I think in a sense Google+ makes sharing a bit harder, because it will require some extra brain cycles to determine who you want to share this with, because of the important concept of circles. You will share only with the current stream you’re looking at, by default. It requires a bit of thinking. And that is the opposite of easier.

On the other hand, sharing from an Android phone does become a lot easier. Take a picture, click share, destination Google+, give it a title, optionally change the circle to publish it to, and that’s pretty much it. And they have done a lot of really smart things in the interface to make working with Google+ easier than working with Facebook. Many menus are really well made, with mouseover dropdowns that requires only 1 final click.

So for me the question is: Do all these smart little things add up to more than enough to overcome the extra burden and complication of the circles concept. And especially the effort to switch over to Google+ from Facebook.

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