Where Google+ Goes From Here

Google Plus

Google’s Plus release represents their first legitimate effort at a coherent social experience. Right out of the gate, they’ve got a few things incredibly right: amazing notifications unified throughout all Google products, good integration with Picasa and Android, Circles, Hangouts, data portability, and a feeling like this might be around for some time.

Now they need to focus on what’s necessary to make this a second nature, everyday product for people, like Facebook is now for most people.

Open Registrations/Invitations

If anyone can get scale right, it should be Google. Admittedly, scaling instantly in to the millions is a challenge for even the largest companies, and there’s surely a method to their madness here, but they need to be doing whatever they can to get this thing open to as many people as possible. They’re framing the current experience as a “Field Test”, but it’s difficult to test a social networking product if you can’t get your friends onto it. Early adopters are the type of user who will shift their more reluctant friends to a new system. They’re kneecapping their momentum with their limited invitations.

Figure Out Sparks

By far, the most confusing element of Plus is Sparks. It’s an interesting hodgepodge auto-aggregator of news and blog posts on individual topics (or “eccentric hobbies” as their video goes), but it’s presented in a bit of a sloppy way. Since it’s curated automatically, it’s not terribly great at it, which is a bit disappointing as well. Fortunately, Sparks is a nice-to-have within the Plus experience. Perhaps some integration with Reader would help make Sparks shine.

Make Huddles Amazing (Read: Copy Beluga)

I’ve got basically every single friend I speak with regularly on Beluga now. We use it to plan events, see what’s happening for the evening, and coordinate shared rides and the like. It’s a great tool. We also have fun with it. We share photos and links and such. And we can access it from our desktop if necessary. Huddles don’t currently let you access them from the Plus site itself, only from the mobile app. Since Plus isn’t available in the iPhone App Store yet, I can’t try to convert my friends to Huddles yet. And since Huddles don’t let us share photos or set Huddle photos, I don’t know if I’d want to yet. Location sharing is really useful too, and here Google has a definite leg up: it already shares location on posts… why not on huddle updates? Moreover, why not tie directly in to Latitude? Let me navigate right to a real-time-updating friend if I’m picking them up from someone, right from within our Huddle!

Import Profile Pics from… Somewhere!

Most of my connections/friends on Plus are faceless. Make adding a profile picture a required first step. It’s important to associate faces with names, but moreover, it’s WAY less usable to see a bunch of placeholder graphics throughout the product. Import from Gravatar, or, if you won’t violate TOS (heh), from Facebook directly. Either way, make it required, or constantly nag until it gets done.

Release a Stream Notifier or API

If you want us to engage, we need to know things are happening. Right now, it appears the only way to see new posts is to load up the Plus site or app and look at the Streams. Facebook and Twitter have apps or APIs that allow us to get pinged with updates as they happen. You’ll lose momentum and people will stop coming back to Plus if we can’t see what’s happening without having to call up the site manually every time.

Let Me Cross-Post Content Easily

Since Plus isn’t going to overtake Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In overnight, let me cross-post to those places with a click of a button. Better yet, blow everyone away and make it as easy as choosing a “Circle”. Add the Facebook “Circle” and the post auto-cross-posts there. Add the Twitter “Circle” and the shortened form is available for preview before it ends up there. By keeping up the walled garden, Google may be intentionally discouraging this sort of behavior, but this is what will trigger buy-in immediately and ease the transition. Social networks aren’t necessarily a zero-sum game, but two is likely very close to the limit for most.

What’s Next for Plus

Plus is off to a great start. Better than Buzz or Google Wave could ever hope for. It’s exciting, clean, original, and well-executed, with a lot of great features available right out of the gate, and some really innovative concepts. With a bit of polish and a bit more hand-holding, I think Google can convince people to begin using Plus as part of their daily interaction. But the elements needed to keep us checking in and coming back every day aren’t quite there yet. The notifications are a great start, but they only tell part of the story, keeping me informed only after I’ve already engaged. I need a reminder to check in on Plus and see that my friends are using it, and that’s sorely lacking right now.

Google also needs to integrate single-sign-on/Google Authentication with Plus, the way Facebook Connect can be used to allow people to log in or register on a site. It’s not necessary to have a complete app platform available right out of the gate, but Facebook is definitely on to something with Facebook Connect and it’s an important element for any social networking site to drive engagement.

Hopefully we’ll see swift continued development on Plus. It’s a great product out of the gate, but building the product isn’t the hard part in social networking: that’s left to getting users to buy in and keep coming back for more. Plus solves a lot of the qualms people have with Facebook on the privacy, data portability, account deletion, and sharing side of things, and that’s amazing. But it’s not an instant win, and they’ve got a long way to go. Making Huddles indispensible (and consider integrating them with group gTalk) would help, but I’m hoping they’ve got some other unique features up their sleeves to introduce into the Plus fold. I’m disappointed that the Slide-inside-Google-developed Pool Party and Prizes products weren’t built with Plus in mind. It might be time for the left hand to clue the right hand into what’s going on, and to get everyone on the same page.

Posted in: Cool Stuff

Facebook vs. Twitter Clickthroughs: More Bang For Your Buck

Facebook vs Twitter

While managing your social networking presence on Twitter and Facebook, it can be difficult to quantify the impact of each medium. While I’m a huge fan of Twitter, traffic results from earlier today on one of my sites confirmed for me what may sound like common sense: Facebook fans drive far more traffic per-user than Twitter followers for a given promotional message.

I’m currently running a contest in association with T-shirt company Threadless. (It’s called Threadknits, and it’s based on knitting and crocheting their t-shirt designs into crafts.) Today, Threadless posted a message on their Facebook page and  Twitter, both with essentially the same content: an invitation to check out Threadknits. They were both posted at nearly the same time.

The numbers are what might surprise you. Threadless has almost 1,500,000 followers on Twitter, and “only” 102,000 fans on Facebook. With the posts made within an hour of each other, my traffic on the site shot up, with a couple thousand visitors hitting by day’s end. Here’s the breakdown of traffic driven from each:

Medium: Fans: Visitors: % Audience Clickthroughs:
Facebook ~102,000 ~1,110 ~1.08%
Twitter ~1,490,000 ~682 ~0.04%

The difference is absolutely staggering. Whereas Facebook generated an approximate 1.08% clickthrough rate, Twitter’s was closer to, well, 0%. 232 visitors came from Twitter or related sites directly and 450 additional clicks landed on the home page without a referrer, which I’m chalking up to clicks from Twitter clients. (Though, to be fair, this could easily overstate Twitter’s influence.)

On a previous contest, Threadless would tweet and I’d see between 1,000-2,000 clicks on their roughly 1.4 million followers, so while it may be a bit low today, I think the point stands: Even at its best, Twitter for large audiences generates clickthrough rates dramatically lower than Facebook. For 2,000 clicks, the rate at 1.4M followers stood at 0.14%. A quick look at the bit.ly stats on a few links from Ashton Kutcher (the #1 Twitter personality by followers) shows they typically net about 20,000-30,000 clickthroughs, on 4.3M followers, gaining a decent amount on the Threadless best-case scenario all the way up to 0.48% ~ 0.60%. (This accounts somewhat for the viral nature of Twitter as bit.ly clicks are counted for retweets as well.) Naturally, clickthrough rates will vary dramatically even amongst popular Twitter personalities for a variety of reasons. I’d like to focus more on the significant difference between the Facebook and Twitter rates I witnessed today.

There are likely several possible reasons for this:

  • The audience may be slightly different—people willing to consider themselves “fans” on Facebook may be more picky with their allegiance than those willing to follow an account on Twitter.
  • The phrasing and formatting of the message were slightly different—not exactly apples-to-apples as Facebook includes the logo and a text clip from the website, but I imagine this had a negligible effect.
  • My mileage may vary—this is an admittedly small sample size, but I think the evidence and logic around these results indicate they’re not anomalous.
  • Most importantly, Facebook lingers while Twitter sails by. Users are probably more likely to follow links during their Facebook time than from a passing Twitter notification unless it’s of particular interest to them.

That last point is particularly important. Facebook, having reconfigured their News Feed yet again, no longer sorts things there chronologically. They’ve merged the Highlights functionality back into the News Feed which they now use to keep certain posts “stickier” than others based on what they believe you might be interested in. (It manages to do a strikingly horrible job at this compared to how it used to perform, but that’s a conversation for a different post.)

With Twitter, the very nature of real-time can be summed up: blink and you miss it. While you can use a Twitter client to review tweets over the past day or two, it’s still less likely your tweet was as visible over Twitter as a post would be on Facebook’s News Feed. I’d like to see some more statistics on total audience reach. The clickthrough rate surely only tells part of the story—I’d be far more interested to learn what percentage of each audience even saw the post, and determine true clickthrough rates from that.

In the end, it’s important to consider the overall spirit of the findings here. Twitter is great for growing virally and interacting with customers, but your message on Facebook may have a far more lasting impression and generate greater returns, even if fans are more of a fight to procure. Engage on both, but recognize the differences between them and leverage each of their strengths. I’ll likely post about the best way to do that for each site in the near future.

(The above graphic represents the total clickthrough breakdown by medium assuming a linear progression of Threadless’ Facebook audience to match their Twitter audience, maintaining the same clickthrough rates from today’s traffic. It’s likely the Facebook clickthrough rate could in fact fall some as their audience grew, but it’s my belief that it would still beat Twitter, user for user.)

Posted in: Articles, Cool Stuff

Twitter Advice for Companies: Engage Intelligently

sp_twitterAs more and more companies move to engage their customers over Twitter, I thought it might be useful to outline a few guidelines companies should use when tweeting.

Naturally your mileage will vary, but these are tips I’ve put together based on my experience with companies who are doing Twitter right, and some who haven’t quite got the hang yet:
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Posted in: How To

Track Twitter Unfollows and See Who Thinks You’re Boring with Qwitter

Image representing Qwitter as depicted in Crun...

EDIT, 12/28/09: It appears that Qwitter is no longer functioning, but the site makes no mention of this. Your mileage may vary.

If you’ve ever spotted a dip in your Twitter followers count and wondered which of your faithful disciples haven’t been quite so faithful, sign up for Qwitter. It’s mind-numbingly simple: enter your Twitter account name and your email address and you’re off to the races. Qwitter doesn’t need your Twitter password since the follower information is already available, so they just basically run a diff and see who you’ve managed to bore away, sending you an email with their name and the (potentially) offending last Tweet that convinced your follower to bail.


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Posted in: Cool Stuff