Monday, July 18, 2011

11 Big Google Plus Secrets Revealed

Although, it is too early to comment on Google Plus's success or failure, it surely has become a talk of the town these days. Google has packed this product with some awesome features to deliver a powerful punch. Learning from its past failures - from products like Buzz, Wave, and Orkut - Google, this time, has meticulously worked for the success of every single feature on Google Plus.

Google Plus is packed with smart features. But, some features help it to stand out from the competition.


Like Apple, Google has its own way to intrigue people for its products. Google creates the desire for its beta products by creating scarcity. If your friend is on Google Plus and you are not, it definitely is a matter of grave concern. Scarcity makes Google Plus a highly desired product - money cannot buy you an account.

Google products spread virally through personal "invites," of course available in limited numbers per user. An "invitation" coming directly from a close-and-trusted friend to use a product demands more attention and quick action than any other existing form of marketing. The probability of the invitee using the product increases many folds. Through viral distribution Google Plus has amassed over 10 million users in just two weeks.

Adherence to Conventions
Google Plus does not have an uncanny resemblance to Facebook's design and interaction by accident. As a matter of fact, Google has stolen most of Facebook's design for Google Plus. Remember the saying, "good designers copy, great designers steal?" Google is aware of users comfort level and expertise with Facebook user interface; and, by stealing the design from Facebook, Google has ensured that Google Plus's design does not overwhelm the users with a "completely" new interface. Using Google Plus is a cake walk for Facebook users.

A Suite of Products with Single Sign On
Not all of us are technically savvy to efficiently and effectively manage plethora of username and passwords with a zen-like ease. Managing and remembering these growing number of sign-on credentials is a big pain among web users. Google offers a wide array of products, ranging from: Web, Mobile, Media, Geo, Home & Office, Social, Specialized Search, and Innovation. Google has perfected the complex art of single sign on; the user can seamlessly switch between Google products, if he is already signed on.

Our life goes beyond social networking websites. We routinely use email, documents, rss readers, maps, storage, etc. While Google caters to almost all of our online needs, Facebook and Twitter fail terribly on this front.

Google Bar

Often unnoticed, do not go by its size. Google bar, though, is still evolving, it definitely delivers a punch. It is both simple and powerful at the same time. Google bar not only provides access to all Google products/services in a single container but also takes a real time dashboard avatar - by providing notifications on Google Plus. For sure, in future, like Apple's new iOS 5 notifications, Google will start notifying across its entire product suite.

"Circles" Feature
Most of us face the perennial problem of differentiating between personal and professional messages. Some users use Twitter to market themselves and Facebook to communicate with family and friends. Others maintain two different accounts on Facebook and Twitter - one for personal and the other for professional use. Multiple accounts, obviously, are painful to manage and act as deterrents to many.

Though, applications such as Hootsuite provides an option to integrate various social media websites in one place, it, of course, does not allow adding other popular services such as: mail, photos, videos, blogs, etc. Also, most of the users are technically-challenged to use Hootsuite.

Google Plus seems to - gracefully - solve this tough problem by creating "Circles." Circles enables and empowers the user to create and share messages targeted to specific groups from the same message box with great ease.

Unlike Facebook "Groups," creating a new Circle in Google Plus is a piece of cake. Circle has a great visual interface with intuitive drag-n-drop features to quickly create and edit members.

Stream Filter Feature
The ease with which messages from various circles can be filtered in Google Plus is highly commendable. The quick filtering helps the user to quickly find the messages of his interest instead of mining for relevant messages by reading through a long scrollable list.

"Hangouts" feature
Facebook rushed to launch video chat soon after Google Plus launch. Perhaps, Mark Zukerberg's team needed something to compete with "Hangout." The beauty of "Hangout" is its ability to facilitate multi-party chat. This much desired video-chat feature was just not available for free to the masses.

With Hangout, one can create a live video chat session with multiple people without being a nerd - simply by using Hangout from Google Plus. According to Jay Morgan, a User Experience designer: "Group video chat has a lot of potential for getting people together to make a decision or have a conversation. It's better than a call, and it's better than many 1:1 conversations."

Invisible Chat
For many - obvious and vague - reasons, sometimes we just do not want to make ourselves available on chat. However, we may require to chat with just one person without making ourselves online. Facebook Chat does not allow a user to chat with other users in invisible mode, which is a big drawback. Sometimes, you just do not want to get distracted by other users. Google Plus, however, solves this problem by allowing its user to chat in invisible mode.

Disable Reshare
Google Plus allows its users to disable further sharing of their posts. This feature ensures that sensitive and private information remain in close circles. It enables the user to take control of the information that he shares with his circles.

Message Amplification
Google Plus informs the user about the amplification of a post by displaying the number of times a post is re-shared and the people involved. The names who re-shared the post help the user to identify the amplifiers in his circle, helping him to concentrate on these people.

For all the reasons explained above, it is clear that Google Plus has the potential to stick on the social media landscape for a long time.

Please read my previous posts in a series of Google Plus:

Post I - Is India Heading Towards the Biggest Virtual Migration?
Post II - Why Google Plus Will Click in India?

If You Were to Rename Google +1 Feature

 A buzz is going around in social circles about Google +1 feature. It seems that engineers at Google, like always, decided to use mathematics as a tool to quantify social interactions. Although, Facebook's "Like" does quantify the number of likes on a post or a picture, the term "Like" itself has been historically a part of our day-to-day conversations - unlike +1 from Google. The notion of "Like" has been so deep-rooted in our psyche that we automatically associate ourselves without thinking twice about it. 
Steve Krug, the author of the book "Don't Make Me Think," advocates design with minimal cognitive strain. Google's +1 on the other hand, makes you think twice about its usage and intended notion.
If I liked a car, I never say, "I  +1  this car." +1 is a mathematical concept; and, is so far away from vernacular.
A successful website sticks with the existing users mental model.
If you are given an option to rename Google's +1 feature to make it more "humane," what would it be?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why Google Plus Will Click in India

This is Part II in the series on Google Plus: Is India Heading Towards the Biggest Virtual Migration after Part I.

Though the post investigates India's potential adoption of Google Plus, it may be a big hit in other countries too. However, examining cultural and contextual nuances for every country is beyond the scope of this post. 

Demographic Make-Up of India

A Big Pool of Technocrats

India has one of the biggest pool of technocrats; with most of them working for global IT firms as software developers and engineers. People in IT are not afraid of trying new technologies; as a matter of fact, they are the "innovators" and "early adopters" of adoption curve

The young crowd in India loves technology, trusts Google products, and adopts new products real fast. They loved Orkut at one time, therefore, they will be more than willing to try Google Plus.

Age of the Targeted Population

India has one of the biggest population of youngsters and young adults. According to WikipediaIndia has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% hovers below the age of 35. Younger population exhibits curiosity, experimental nature, and higher risk taking ability with new things. According to a study on age related difference in risk takingwhen compared to their younger peers, older adults are supposed to prefer to make safe as opposed to risky responses.

With such a young population the chances of number of users trying Google Plus increases manyfold - and, therefore the chances of conversion.

No Language Barrier

India speaks and understands English. India is second largest English speaking country with 11.38% eligible speaker population after USA. 

Therefore, India can quickly embrace any new service - in English - without waiting for local translations. Google Plus is good - as is for Indians.

Existence of Collectivistic Society

Unlike West, where the society is "Individualistic," Indians are motivated by group needs. In these societies, kinship ties are much stronger and may take precedence over expertise in matters of appointments and promotions. 

Indians are more likely than not get influenced and persuaded by trusted recommendations. The more the number of people recommending Google Plus, the more will be the number of users adopting it. Once this process gets into infinite loop, Facebook will be out of the picture.

Huge Overseas Population

Many Indians have migrated abroad. The NRI (Non-Resident Indians) and PIO (Person of Indian Origin) population across the world is estimated at over 30 millions. Most of them are still in active contact with their friends and family back in India; and, many rely of social media websites for real-time news and updates from their near-and-dear ones.

Sometimes members of the same family live in different countries and cities. Talking to all of them at the same is a big technical challenge. Skype allows video chat with one person at a time and so does Facebook. Hangout feature from Google Plus allows such geographically distributed families to video chat at the same time. Certainly, this feature is going to attract the attention of these families.

Migrate Orkut Accounts to Google Plus

Although, as of today, Google has not announced any migration option to Google Plus for its Orkut users. But sooner or later Google will allow Orkut users to port their data to Google Plus - after all, both the products come from Google. This will help Orkut users to carry over all their photographs, contacts, posts, and other details to Google Plus without any data loss.

Considering that India is the second largest user of Orkut in the world, the migration option will certainly work like a charm for Orkut users. Imagine moving your entire history on a click of a button. This will not only help Google to consolidate all its Orkut user base on Google Plus but also increase the number of users dramatically.

For all the reasons mentioned above, I believe that Google Plus will certainly usher in a new dawn of social networking in India.

In my last post in the series on Google Plus, I will be discussing about Google Plus features.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Building Mobile Applications Using Web Technologies

Most of the IT companies have large development teams that focus primarily on web technologies. These teams are ultra smart and efficient in building web based applications. However, with the advent of mobile, more and more clients are demanding and investing in mobile applications development also.

There are number of mobile platforms choices available to a user. Therefore, most of the times, clients demand for cross platform compatibility. Of course, all the mobile platforms provide developer SDK to build native applications. But with so many platforms, the real challenge, for the IT organizations, is to perfect all of them.

It does not make sense for the large IT organizations to create platform specific teams – the overhead will be huge. And, it does not make sense for the client to approach different vendors to develop applications that run on multiple platforms. It, therefore, makes sense to develop mobile applications leveraging the existing web technology know-how in the organization.

This is a win-win situation for all the parties. IT companies can use their existing pool of developers without getting them trained on specific platforms. Clients can continue working with their existing IT vendors without seeking out for small time mobile application development shops.

The very first thing is to get the client’s buy-in on the choice of application type – native vs hybrid vs web.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages:

Almost Instant
Almost Instant to Slow
Depends where the content is served from – Local Vs Web
Fast to Slow
Depends on Network
Offline Mode
For local content only
Fast – click an icon
Fast – click an icon
Requires the user to open the browser and type the web address
Hardware API Access
Full Access
Full Access
Restricted to Limited
Sell on App Store
Access could be sold to the user but the process is not as seamless as 1-click download from the app store.

If you plan developing a native application

Appcelerator Titanium Development Platform: Titanium makes cross-platform native application development easy. A free and open source application development platform, Titanium lets you create native mobile, tablet and desktop application experiences using existing web skills like Javascript, HTML, CSS, Python, Ruby, and PHP.


If you plan developing a Hybrid application with a native wrapper for multiple platforms

Web applications do not get full access to the device API. Phonegap bridges this gap by allowing developers to author native applications with web technologies and provide access to device APIs and app store.

Phonegap allows to package Sencha Touch code and resources into a binary app – ready to distribute to Apple, Android, Palm, Symbian, and BlackBerry devices.

If you plan developing a web based application

Sencha Touch: Sencha Touch allows you to develop mobile web apps that look and feel native on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry touch devices.

jQuery Mobile: jQuery mobile framework takes the "write less, do more" mantra to the next level: Instead of writing unique apps for each mobile device or OS, the jQuery mobile framework will allow you to design a single highly branded and customized web application that will work on all popular smartphone and tablet platforms.

But keep in mind: Web apps do not get full access to the device API.


Further reading 

Here is a great discussion between Phonegap Vs Appcelerator

Here is a wonderful presentation on Native vs Hybrid vs Web:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is India heading towards the biggest virtual migration? - Part I

We Love Opportunities

Migration is an intrinsic part of human nature. We have, historically, migrated to various parts of the world for various reasons ranging from opportunities to war. Wikipedia defines human migration as: a physical movement by humans from one area to another, sometimes over long distances or in large groups.

However, a virtual migration is slightly different - it happens over the web. One just needs to create a username and password on a new website and stop using the current one. Again, innovative & distinguished features of the website and social pressure are the two main factors that fuel virtual migrations - much like the physical migrations.

Why India

This post talks about India for one obvious reason: its population. Today only 8.4% of Indian population has internet access; still, India has around 100 million internet users. With just 50% internet penetration, the usage will shoot to 600 million users. The size of the market in India is huge and the opportunities for online revenues are endless.

A brief History of Social Networking

The world around us changed in 2002 when Friendster was launched - the social world around us had become virtual, for the very first time. Friendster, therefore, could safely be considered as the grandfather of social networking. 

Just a year later, Myspace was launched in 2003. Certainly, it was Myspace that truly revolutionized social networking among teenagers and young adults. It soon became a hosting place of millions of gaudy homepages. In 2005, Myspace had over 27 million users and a 400% growth since the last year. 

Given Myspace's unprecedented success, who would have thought of its demise as a social media superpower. But, it happened; and it happened a lot sooner than expected. On Sep 26, 2006, Facebook opened its door for the general public - to everyone of age 13 and older.

What Facebook provided to its users was a new, clean, and fresh user interface. Facebook provided a clean white "wall" for status updates. The new Facebook look soon won over the immature, gaudy, garish, and sometimes repulsive - full of intimate pictures - Myspace homepages. Facebook also provided more mechanisms for collaboration over Myspace pages. With smart features such as: Wall, Chat, Photos, Groups, Events, Games, and Applications, in a well designed user interface, Facebook overthrew Myspace from its number one spot in 2008.

For some unknown reasons - perhaps, a topic of anthropological research - Facebook remained less popular in big developing countries such as India and Brazil during 2006 - 2009.

The choice of Social Networking platform by users is, somewhat, mystical. It is largely based on the preference of the masses - and, not you as a person. Back in 2006, when I created my Facebook profile in India, I had nobody to talk to. All my friends were hanging out on Orkut. Ultimately, I had to abandon Facebook and join Orkut. At that time, users in India and Brazil were going crazy over Orkut - a social networking service by Google.

Orkut was created by a Google engineer - Orkut Büyükökten, and launched by Google to general public in 2004. Only three years later, in 2007, according to comScore social media statistics, Facebook had only 7.1% usage compared to Orkut's 43.0% from Asia Pacific region (primarily from India).

But, the change happened in India - finally. Orkut lost its number one status. For the first time, in July 2010, Facebook surpassed Orkut to become number one social media site in India. According to comScore: visitor growth to was up 167 percent in September 2010 versus year ago reaching 24.3 million visitors, with Orkut witnessing a 19-percent increase to 18.7 million visitors. In year 2010, Facebook witnessed the third biggest 228.28% growth in India, just behind Thailand (259.60%) and Brazil (270.01%).

Google Plus - A New Kid on the Block

Currently, Facebook has amassed more than 30 million user in India. India is the third largest user of Facebook as social media platform, just behind USA and Indonesia.

The migration of users from Orkut to Facebook, in India, was certainly a great - but widely unnoticed - event. Had it been a physical human migration, it would have leapfrogged all migrations till date in human history.

With the arrival of Google Plus, are we going to witness another great virtual migration of users from Facebook to Google Plus?

I strongly feel that users in India will certainly migrate to Google Plus in the coming months. I will be discussing number of reasons to support my argument in Part II - Why Google Plus Will Click in India of the series on Google Plus.