The Naming Disaster That Is Google+

Google+ is the talk of the town, as the search giant has finally "sort-of" released (still in field trials) its new social effort to the media and some select users. In terms of features and philosophy, it appears that Google has (finally) launched a social product that might actually stick (read reviews by Jeremiah Owyang, Marshall Kilpatrick, Jesse Stay, John Jantsch).

The broader context of this release, of course, is that Google is under enormous pressure from Facebook, and is trying to re-orient the company to better address the competitive threat that Facebook represents.

Leaving the use, technical, and strategic issues aside for a moment, I'd like to focus a bit of thought on the launch and naming strategies employed by Google. In my judgement, Google has missed the boat here, and has created unnecessary complexity for users.

"We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project."

Notice they are looking at their entire corporate brand – Google – and saying they want it to be better. And then they frame all of this in the form of a "project." 

The name for the project is a symbol – the "plus" sign. No big deal, right? Well, take a moment to (ahem) Google that name. Did you type in "Google+" or "Google Plus"? Did you try to type in "Google+.com" into your browser? How about "GooglePlus.com?" None of these really work. In a domain-driven culture, this is rather stunning. It strikes me as a company trying to be too clever.

Moving on from the project, Google then goes on to actually name each of the primary features of the new project:
  • Circles – personalized sharing
  • Sparks – topic-based sharing
  • Hangouts – group communication
  • Mobile – sharing on the go
  • Instant Upload
  • Huddle – group messaging

So for the average user – Google is apparently wanting folks to know/learn at least 7 new product names in order to interact successfully with and understand this new, "better" Google.

Compare that with Facebook for a moment. Other than techies and social media workers – does anyone ever talk about the features in Facebook by name? No – we just go to "Facebook" and take care of whatever it is we need to do there. Why should Google be any different in this regard? 

I'm surprised that Google didn't learn from their Google "Buzz" and "Wave" mistakes in this mode. Clearly, on the technical side, they have made some enormous strides. But "Wave" and "Buzz" didn't mean anything to the average user. They were names without meaning or context. And I think they are making the same mistake here. 

Google is a holistic brand – it is a culture, an aesthetic, a promise of easily-accessible information. If the company wants to be better then I would argue that it should have launched all of this simply as improvements to Google, not as a bunch of add-on products.

At the end of the product announcement, Google tries to clarify that despite the fact that they've focused on the user for over a decade – somehow this effort that focuses on the user needs to be a different sort of initiative:

"You and over a billion others trust Google, and we don’t take this lightly. In fact we’ve focused on the user for over a decade: liberating data, working for an open Internet, and respecting people’s freedom to be who they want to be. We realize, however, that Google+ is a different kind of project, requiring a different kind of focus—on you. That’s why we’re giving you more ways to stay private or go public; more meaningful choices around your friends and your data; and more ways to let us know how we’re doing. All across Google."

Google wants to be better. I think they can be better. But they don't need 7 new product names to do it.

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