July 21, 2011

An Average User’s First Google+ Experience: “Ug. This Is Already Too Much Work.”

Filed under: facebook, google, social networking — Rakesh Agrawal @ 11:25 pm


Much of the discussion of Google+ has been from the point-of-view of very experienced users and early adopters. In my analysis, I’ve really tried to focus on how a normal user would evaluate Google+, especially someone who was a heavy Facebook user. Google will need to get the attention of a lot of them in order for Google+ to be considered a success.

What follows is a transcript of an IM exchange with a friend during her first experience with Google+. Kristin is in her mid-30s and has a Ph. D. in systems engineering. She is currently working on hydrogen fuel cells. She uses Facebook but doesn’t use Twitter and hadn’t heard of digg.

This type of research is frequently done during product launches. It’s really best to do this outside of Silicon Valley as the pool of potential testers here is very polluted. Ideally, you’d do it with the researcher on site. But you can also do it on the cheap — I did this entirely over IM.

I’ve always found it to be one of the most fun parts of product development. This is just one user’s experience, but it provides important insight into a non-techie’s view of Google+.

The key takeaways:

  1. Google would have failed acquisition marketing 101. Kristin’s first experience with the product was to get an invitation from me. When she clicked through, she was told she wasn’t allowed in. She tried a couple of times. Then, when space was available, there was no follow up message asking her to try again. If I hadn’t asked her about it, she likely would’ve forgotten about it for a while. After she signed up, there was no message back to me saying, “Hey, your friend Kristin signed up! Here’s her profile page… come say hello!” I could’ve served as a welcome wagon, improving her first experience. (If my own usage had lapsed, it would have been a trigger for me to reengage.) Onboarding is an extremely important part of the end-to-end product experience. This is especially true for social products.
  2. Her initial reaction to inviting friends was confusion over who was already in the product versus those who were not. (This is differentiated in the interface, but easy to miss.)
  3. There was a feeling that the product required too much work and repeating work that she’d done before on other sites. Referring to dragging people into circles, she said “ug. this is already too much work.”
  4. Her friends (aside from me) who were already on Google+ aren’t doing much posting.
  5. She didn’t see a clear differentiation between Facebook and Google+. “Really, this seems like a carbon copy of facebook, except that you can drag people into groups.” In order to get users to convert to change existing habits, there needs to be a clear, compelling message.
  6. She wants location-based circles. This is actually a very common need and I’m surprised that no one has done this yet. This provides a lot of value to the user and can be done automatically. Think of iTunes Smart Playlists.
  7. Her mom is on Facebook. This presents a significant switching cost. Even if her mom were willing to switch, those of us who do technical support for parents know that it’s easier to have them continue doing what they’re doing.
  8. She’s willing to try new products and would be willing to dump a large proportion of her friends, if there was a very significant benefit, but Google+ currently doesn’t provide it.
  9. She is worried that this will just create another place to check and more work.
  10. She would like her social network to also be a news source for topics she cares about. She would like this information segregated from updates from her friends.

The exchange has been lightly edited to fix typos, remove personal information and adjust IM synchronicity issues. There was no set up other than me inviting Kristin to Google+ shortly after the launch. Emphasis added.

me: did you get into Google Plus yet?

Kristin: no, I’ve checked a couple of times, but it always says the same thing.

I’m wondering if it’s because I’m in Germany

me: i see people from other places on there

do you have a different email address i can try?

Kristin: i can give you my work one

oh wait!

i just tried the original one.

looks like its working!

haha, Gender: male, female, or other

me: are you going with other?

Kristin: haha, what are you implying?

me: i was at a bar the other day where they had two bathrooms, each with 1 stall. a woman came out of the men’s room and i was joking with her about her penis.

Kristin: ok, I’m in!


it’s suggesting people that I am pretty sure are not on Google+

for example, my mom

me: it’s based on your address book in gmail

there should be a section somewhere that shows you just people who are already on Google Plus

Kristin: ug. this is already too much work.

me: how so?

Kristin: dragging people

just my first impression.

this looks just like facebook.

me: would you switch over from facebook?

Kristin: no. unless there is a good reason to do so.

after reading your post last week, I don’t think there is one.

me: Do you see any of your friends already on G+?

Kristin: yeah, actually about 20 of them.

me: any of them posting anything?

Kristin: you!

me: anyone who is not a nerd?

Kristin: and my friend Rommy


is she a nerd?

I’m not sure.

me: Less so than you.

Kristin: so for example, this is asking me to fill out my profile. Something that I have already done a million times in other apps.

I don’t feel like doing that again.

Kristin: What about me? Am I in your “nerd” circle =)

me: You wouldn’t come anywhere close to my nerd circle.

Kristin: Wait, what? I’m not nerdy enough for your nerd circle?

me: Not even close.

You’ll have to settle for close friends.

The intersection of nerds and close friends is quite small.

Kristin: haha

damn, now I feel a challenge to become nerdier.

did you know I was on the Junior Engineering Technical Society team in high school?

me: What other circles would you add?

Kristin: I added one called “Berlin”

maybe “DC Friends”

but, you know what I really want?

I want a news feed added into facebook that give me feeds of articles on topics that I am interested in. I don’t want them mixed in with status updates, but on their own tab or something.

me: that’s what twitter is for, no?

Kristin: really? I don’t know, I don’t use twitter. I thought it was a way to read people’s random thoughts on stuff every 30 seconds.

they could be ranked by importance and quality, which would be voted on by other readers of the articles

me: you mean like digg?

Kristin: I don’t know, what’s Digg?

I’m really subtracting from my nerdiness rating now!

me: see, you don’t belong in my nerd circle!

Kristin: I need a nerd tutorial!

me: so would this news feed be based on general population or just your friends?

Kristin: no, not my friends.

although, maybe. maybe I could switch between the two.

you know like on NYT, it has articles your friends shared, and articles everyone shared.

me: your friends already share news items in the regular feed, no?

Kristin: yeah, some of them do.

so that’s fine.

but for example, I am friends with the California Fuel cell partnership, and they regularly post news articles.
which is cool, I like that because I see fuel cell news. but it would be nice to separate that stuff from the friend stuff.

me: you don’t want your worlds to collide?

Kristin: I guess that’s kind of what circles does, but I’d also like to filter based on what kind of content it is. FB used to have a thing where you could view all pictures, all status updates separately. I don’t know if it i has that anymore.

i don’t mind worlds colliding, but sometimes I just want to read news without other stuff interfering. For example, when I am eating lunch and want to mouse but not keyboard bc I might get food on the keys.

another topic, but now I’m like, oh man, now I have to check Google+ AND facebook? Seems like it’s the same kind of stuff posted on there.

really, this seems like a carbon copy of facebook, except that you can drag people into groups.

me: do you see any other differences?

Kristin: seems faster

obviously the stream filters on the left

I have less friends

I’m assuming the chat is gchat integrated so it is probably better than the fb chat.

also maybe its integrated w/ gmail

which would be cool bc fb messages suck.

me: Would you use a better product if it only had half your Facebook friends?

Kristin: which half? haha

but seriously, it depends. I could probably dump half my fb friends without too much heartache.

but only the ones I don’t know that well

so, to answer your question, yes, BUT: it would have to be quite a bit better. not just marginally.

AND it would be great if all the fb data ported.

me: is your mom on facebook?

Kristin: yeah

me: when did she get on facebook?

Kristin: mm, I don’t know

maybe a year ago?

no, more than that. 2 years?

but she doesn’t use it that much

I don’t think we’re ready for a fb alternative anyway. It’s too hot right now. Give it a few years, then give us something better and people will switch. That’s just my amateur opinion.

me: do you think your mom would switch?

Kristin: to Google+? Definitely not.

me: hey, can i post this online? i can delete your last name if you want. i think it’s important that tech people know how real users react

Kristin: Sure.

Kristin: Check this out – here is what my friend Rommy wrote. I read this just now, after I wrote that stuff above.

Now what WOULD have been awesome is Google organizing the content for me. If G+ is truly a “sharing” network, then Google can uses its power as a predictive search company to do an automatic categorizing of incoming content in all my circles placed into categories like “tech news” or “gaming” or “politics” or “business news” or even “photos” or “statuses” would be compelling. And a page which shows the top news and keywords being shared across all my circles by category would be incredible.

What I really find compelling, which no network has managed well is content. Because even with Circles, the organization of content ceases to exist. I can make a Circle of Tech friends, but they’re not talking about Tech much of thetime. I can make a Circle of Close friends and they can post just about anything. Even my Politics friends won’t be talking politics all the time. All of which somewhat defeats the purpose of Circles.

I’m not saying get rid of Circles, I’m saying organize the content within Circles so that it becomes more digestible.

OK, it’s me again. That is exactly what I was trying to say.

fb slightly accomplishes that, in that I can filter out updates from specific apps like farmville. But I cannot say, show me news articles, show me pictures, show me stuff about hydrogen.

Kristin: btw, I have lists of contacts in Gmail, why doesn’t it use those as default circles? In my case, it wouldn’t really make too much sense bc of how I have it organized, but it seems like that would be a sensible place to start.

though maybe they felt burned by the Google buzz thing.

I remember there was some kind of controversy over people being automatically added.

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July 5, 2011

Google should just buy Twitter already. At any price.

Filed under: facebook, google, twitter — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:40 am

I’ve been thinking more about Google+ since my TechCrunch post on the Google circles colliding.

Even if you buy the argument that categorizing your friends into buckets offers user value (which I don’t), that is not a defensible feature for Google. Facebook could replicate that functionality in weeks, if not days.

And sitting on top of years of interaction data, Facebook could do it better. Based on your interrelationships, Facebook could suggest which friends to put in to the college bucket, friends bucket, best friends, ex-girlfriends, etc. That would create the value of Circles without the upfront pain of manually categorizing your relationships.

As it’s currently structured, Google+ is a bigger threat to Twitter than to Facebook. (Even then, just based on network effects, I don’t think it’s a big threat.) Twitter is a simple but extremely clunky platform. A lot of the constraints that were essential for its early growth just don’t apply any more.

Think of Twitter as a command-line interface for communications. You have obscure commands like @, ., d, #. It’s extremely unfriendly to users. DM fails happen regularly. We had to invent an inefficient layer of URL shortening services to deal with Twitter limitations. It relies on handles, which is a geeky thing.

For content publishers, tracking activity on Twitter is a challenge to say the least. When people reply to conversations, it’s much harder than it should be to track what they were responding to.

Google+ is a GUI for communications. But so is Facebook.

Despite its clunkinesss, Twitter has built an extremely loyal following of publishers. If you have 1 million, 100,000 or even 1,000 followers on Twitter, it’s going to be extremely hard to get all of them over on to Google+. Unless Google+ entirely replaces Twitter or Facebook, it’s just another place to check and to manage. If there were unique functionality, it might be worth incurring the overhead. But the new functionality is marginal at best.

With a Twitter acquisition, Google could transfer those relationships onto a more user-friendly platform. Google benefits from having a huge firehose of information and relationships.

Twitter also benefits in that it gets a partner with deep algorithmic and search experience. Twitter has also fallen asleep at the wheel when it comes to local — something I don’t understand at all, given its strong assets. Google is one of the leaders in local. Local could be Google’s backdoor into social, given that a lot of social interaction happens in places.

Someone asked me what price Google should pay. My answer: whatever it takes.

Google has had many failed attempts at social. Without Twitter, Google+ isn’t likely to work either. And Google can’t afford to keep failing at social.

See my answer to “Is Google overreacting to the the rise of Facebook?” on Quora for the reasons why.

July 3, 2011

Selling value, not price

Filed under: groupon, marketing — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:55 am

I had an interesting Twitter exchange this morning with Milk and Honey Spa in Austin, who recently started following me.

Have you run a Groupon or daily deal?

No. The economics have never worked out and risk to brand has been too great.

When you say brand risk, what are you referring to?

We create a luxury experience and hire and train employees to deliver that experience. That’s not compatible with discounting

Would you consider Groupon if they gave you 100% of the revenue and you just had discount?

Never say never, but probably not. We tend not to discount up front, but offer a rewards program to regular customers.

See for our reward program details. Regular customers get nice discounts for certain behaviors and actions

That’s terrific! Did you design rewards program yourself or you model after someone?

We designed it ourselves, but within the parameters of the spa management software that we use (Millennium by Harms)

How many times a week are you called by deal companies?

It’s slowing down a bit, but about 2-3 times per week.

Do you do spafinder?

We did a couple of years ago, but stopped. We prefer to manage our customer experience and not cede it to other vendors.

With an elegantly designed Web site, strong Facebook and Twitter presences, Milk and Honey is doing a lot of things right. They are posting availability, introducing customers to their staff, talking about events and interacting with customers. The pictures on their Facebook page not only show off the business, they include examples of community involvement.

The structure of the rewards program incents a lot of desirable behaviors:

  • Referring friends and family to the spa.
  • Pre-booking appointments.
  • Trying out new services.

Other businesses would do well to emulate Milk and Honey’s practices. Next time I’m in Austin, I’ll have to go for a massage.

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