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What is Google+ trying to achieve?

with S. Rajeev, Adjunct Faculty

With Wall Posts and Farmville being the buzz words of today, Facebook has indeed carved its niche among the Social Networking websites. But what are these networking sites able to offer besides allowing one to ‘expand one’s network’? It’s also about being ‘connected to the world’, with applications ranging from dating and entertainment to business, education, finance and medicine. It also helps in communicating social and political messages. For example, in the Egyptian revolution, Facebook and Twitter both played a pivotal role in keeping people connected to the revolt. In this guest interaction with Mr. S. Rajeev, Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Kozhikode, tejas@iimb quizzes him on matters ranging from the value proposition of Google+ to the very essence of social networking and ethical considerations.

    Google+: Social Networking Justified?

    tejas@iimb: Besides the known uses of social networking sites that we have today, does Google+ bring anything new to the table?

    SR: While Twitter is clearly a broadcasting mechanism which doesn’t require users to post much information about themselves and Facebook at the other extreme end of the spectrum, Google+ is poised somewhere in between. Google+ too could develop a marketing strategy and improve user convenience similar to that of Facebook where different sites would allow you to use your Google+ IDs to sign up as an alternative to email IDs.

    tejas@iimb: Do you think Google+ is merely in response to Microsoft Cloud? If it genuinely is trying to build its image in the social space, what do you think ensures its sustenance?

    SR: Google created Google+ out of necessity. While Google’s core competency is its search engine, it cannot search for information inside the Facebook domain. The definition of search is today redefined by social networking sites in the sense that, you might as well ask your friends for say some restaurant choices or good travel options, rather than using search engines. If that information is in the Facebook pages, Google cannot access it. Google definitely wants to be a leader in this market too and hence Google+ is intended to compete with Facebook.

    Google+: A Winning Proposition?

    tejas@iimb: Google has been aggressively attacking the social networking space through Google Buzz, Google Wave and then recently Google+. Do you think it is poised to take over Facebook in the long run? Says Google co-founder Sergei Brin, "Google+ is just the tip of the ice berg" and represents only "1% of the capabilities that can be deployed in that realm."

    SR: Google+ was not created to recover from the failures of Google Wave and Buzz. Google+ is a god example of Architectural Innovation with core concept of social networking reinforced and the way in which the components are linked together in terms of new features, changed. Though Google+ provides a plethora of new features including ‘Google Circles’, ‘Sparkz’, ‘Hangout’, it has a sustainability issue in the long run because it becomes difficult to add novelty beyond a point. Today, the drawback with Circles is that it might lack activity due to infrequent posts and might lose the connectivity which is the very essence of social networking. On a lighter note, while in Facebook, unfriending a person is not an easy thing to do, as the other person will learn of it, in Google Circles, you could probably create a Circle named ‘unwanted connections’. Statistics says that Facebook has 63% of its users as females, hopefully, Circles would achieve a better gender ratio. On the whole, Google+ is good, but not earth-shaking.

    tejas@iimb: Besides the user’s convenience in terms of Friend Circles and better privacy, what do you think are the other dimensions that can help Google+ in winning the battle against Facebook?

    SR: Sparks, which is similar to Google Alerts on topics of interest and Hangout which facilitates multi-user video conferencing are two particularly useful add-ons in Google+. Hangout can be termed much more efficient and reliable when compared with Webex, Skype, etc. Besides being able to remotely connect friends, it could also be used for corporate meetings and other business applications such as recruitment and interviews. However, the main attraction for users to open up accounts in Google+ is its Circles feature, which provides more privacy for users in terms of random people being able to view their posts and other personal information.

    Ethical Considerations

    tejas@iimb: Though social networks are increasingly being used to build one’s business presence, is intrusion of privacy, gathering personal information and spamming justified in the name of advertising/social media marketing?

    SR: There is always a tradeoff: you are generally trading your privacy and personal information for something else for e.g., you get Gmail, a free mail service, but you are letting Google know what your interests are. Similarly, you get a Google map, which is very useful for navigation, but then that means advertisers can track your location and at the same time send you location based ads. It is a question of how much privacy you are willing to trade for other things that are also valuable.

    tejas@iimb: How would some of the common issues of social networking viz., criticizing other member’s beliefs and violating copyright laws be dealt with in the years to come?

    SR: There will be many fights by people with violently opposite opinions. This is not different from what happens in real life, except that people tend to be far blunter on the net and in email than in person. Copyright violation will be there, but it is probably not much of a problem. This is why the whole digital rights management movement and copy protection have been rendered somewhat superfluous by technology changes. Many people are willing to pay for content they consume, so long as it is easy to pay for and doesn't cost too much.


    On the whole, Google is trying to corner Facebook in every way to emerge as the undisputed leader in every method of search possible. This is because the definition of search is today redefined by social networking sites in the sense that, where you might ask a friend for something rather than query the same on a search engine. Google+ is clearly a case of incremental innovation which is set to provide a host of features that users are really looking for, e.g., privacy provided by Google Circles.


    S. Rajeev is currently an Adjunct Faculty of Innovation and Strategy at IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore and IIM Kozhikode and at the Asian School of Business, Trivandrum. He is currently an Investment Committee member at Canbank Venture Capital Fund. He has had extensive experience in the IT industry in Silicon Valley and India, working as a Consultant at BlueAlly (A Megasoft Company), Saraansh Software; Director of Java and Strategic Alliances at Sun Microsystems and of Product Marketing at Siemens; Marketing Manager at Sun; Product Manager at Ada at AT&T Bell Labs; Associate of Strategy Practice at Booz Allen Hamilton and as Member of Technical Staff of Compilers at Bell Labs. He has also served as the Vice President at Bonsai Networks and Megasoft. He was on the investment committees of the Canara Bank Venture Capital Fund and the Kerala Venture Capital Fund. He was educated at the Stanford Business School, Syracuse University and IIT, Madras. and as a guest faculty in the Strategy and Marketing area at the Asian School of Business. He had his education in reputed schools such as Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Syracuse University and IIT, Madras.


    Mr. Sanjay Kalra, Former CEO, Tech Mahindra

    Sourav Mukherji, Associate Professor, on Knowledge Management in Indian Software Firms

    Dr. Catherine Nickerson, Associate Editor, Journal of Business Communication (Sage)

    Dr.Trilochan Sastry, Professor, IIM Bangalore

    Dr. Padmini Srinivasan, Assistant Professor, IIM Bangalore

    Dr.R. Srinivasan, Associate Professor, IIM Bangalore

    Dr. Vijaya Marisetty, Associate Professor, IIM Bangalore

    Dr. Rajeev Gowda, Professor, IIM Bangalore
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