Earlier this week, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner made an interesting observation about the future of Google+. To paraphrase, Weiner believes that there's simply no room for another destination site. People already have too many similar platforms on which to "hang out" online, and unlike TV, which can be a complementary medium, multiple social networks can't really be used in conjunction. Thus, for Google+ to succeed, a rival would have to fall.
I see the logic here. Anyone who's read my past speculation on Google's social efforts or listened to me wax philosophic on the state and future of Google+ knows that I wholeheartedly agree. They would also know that I don't believe the long-term vision for Google+ is for it to be just another site for people to post and share inanities.
If Google does want its social platform to succeed, it needs to be distinct in the mind of the user, and it has already outlined a few. However, even with Circles and Huddles, it's still just another social network.
I could be wrong, but I think differentiation will come in the form of Chrome and ChromeOS. Google's strongest assets are its portals to the internet. Whether it's via Gmail, search or Android, Google owns the access points -- it has never tried to own the destination. So why would it aim to do that here?
Not a day went by after Google+'s launch before developers built and released Chrome extensions to enhance the service and port its features into the Chrome browser, most notably the red notification box -- or as many have called it, the Google+ equivalent of crack.
It's not difficult to imagine complete integration of Google+ directly into the Chrome browser in such a way that the various functionality will follow you around the web, much like search boxes have done in the past (along with many annoying AOL and Yahoo toolbars). Google Plus has seen tremendous and rapid growth, numbering now at about 18 million users, but in May, Google announced that Chrome has 160 million users. Bloggers have long-opined on the potential of a social browser, a prospect that saw revived chatter upon Facebook's interest in Rockmelt. I would not be surprised to see Chrome+ before the end of 2011. If every Chrome user was prompted to join Plus , that would certainly be a boon to the fledgling platform's battle against Facebook's army of 750 million.
Of course, it doesn't stop there either. Google's efforts in this space have turned the popular browser into a cloud-based operating system, ChromeOS, which now powers the Samsung Chomebook. So it's not really a stretch to think that we may soon see the first cloud-based social operating system. And that is where the true potential lies.
In counting Google's social efforts, many leave out Sidewiki. It never elicited the buzz of Buzz, or the confusion of Wave, but the product lives today as a Chrome extension that allows people to leave comments attached to websites they visit, presumably so those in their social graph can access said commentary when visiting the same sites, for an "augmented" browsing experience.
If I had to venture a guess, I might envision a similar setup for Chrome+, and eventually ChromeOS+ -- all the utility and functionality of Google+ built directly into the browser. Knowing Google's penchant for minimalism, the black top bar may be overlaid on sites you visit, allowing for instant drop-down access to Gmail, sparks, your streams, and sharing with certain circles, while the left sidebar could be collapsed and expanded at your whim, for all other social needs, like Gchat and Huddles.
Or Google could just focus on enhancing Plus and let third-party developers do all the hard work through extensions, as they're wont to do. Either way, Jeff is right; we don't need another destination site. What we need is a true social-browsing experience, and this could be first step in that direction.