Earlier this week, actor/Internet celebrity Wil Wheaton posted a pretty interesting rant about Google on his blog, and on his Tumblr. Specifically, it was about a feature he spotted on YouTube, which placed a Google+ like button in the spot where the YouTube thumbs up button would normally be. It would prompt users to upgrade to Google+ when not signed in. We asked Wheaton for some additional thoughts on the subject. He seemed somewhat eager to oblige, saying that "this whole thing has struck a nerve".
Wheaton, probably best known for his roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation and in the film Stand By Me, currently has a show called Tabletop on the Geek and Sundry premium YouTube channel.
The feature was only a Google experiment, and it's very likely that only a few people actually saw it. We spoke with a Googler about the feature. Here's the official statement: "We're always experimenting to help users find, watch and share the videos that matter most to them, on YouTube and across all of Google's products including Google+. Depending on user feedback, some of these experiments may become options for users and some may not."
Here's that it looked like:
Google does run experiments all the time. That's nothing new, but we also know that Google is very serious about making Google+ a much bigger part of the larger Google. As CEO Larry Page described Google+ during the company's latest earnings call, Google+ has two parts: the social destination (what most people think of as Google+) and the social spine (the social layer that is spread across most of Google's products). While the former part will no doubt grow and get more feature-rich as time goes on, the latter part is the one that seems really crucial to the company, and with its recently consolidated privacy policies, Google should have more freedom to use users' data from product to product. Like say, from YouTube to Google.
So, while this particular experiment may never see the light of day as a full-blown feature, it seems likely that Google will continue to look for more and more ways to integrate YouTube (or for that matter every other Google product) and Google+.
I found Wheaton's rant about the feature interesting for various reasons. For one, he's an avid Google+ user. It would be one thing if he wasn't, but he is. He has 1,377,525 followers. He likes Google+. It's not about that. Another reason is something he said in his blog post about how this could cost his video upvotes on YouTube. It's a pretty good point. Not all YouTube users use Google+. YouTube has established itself quite well over the years. It's often cited as even being the second largest search engine, after Google itself. A whole lot of people use YouTube every day. A lot more than use Google+, the social destination.
"The only reason that matters is because it's part of how Google will decide who gets another season of the shows they're sponsoring," Wheaton tells WebProNews. "I want to be very clear about this: when I made my post on Tumblr, I wasn't even thinking of that. I was thinking about how Google is forcing people who don't want or need Google+ to sign up and use it."
We asked Wheaton what are some ways he thinks Google could integrate Google+ and YouTube without pissing people off.
"Give users an option, and respect their choice," he says. "Make G+ so incredibly amazing, people don't want to ignore it, but if they do, leave them alone and quit messing with their existing user experience."
"G+ and YouTube are both great on their own. They don't need to be integrated," he says. Still, when asked about what Google+ features he'd like to see on YouTube, he says, "More meaningful and intelligent comments from users. I have a G+ circle that's called Smart People, and it's one that I have a hard time keeping up with. It would be nice if 'YouTube comment' wasn't a punchline."
We asked Wheaton more generally, if Google should push Google+ more into its other products.
"Only if they want to alienate even more users," he says . "There's a reason so many people use browser extensions like Disconnect; not everyone wants to be social on the Internet."
"This is where Google is making a huge and annoying mistake," he adds. "You can't force people into something that's social; it's like telling someone, 'I know you were going to enjoy a quiet night at home reading this book, but before you can turn the page, you must go to this party and mingle with people, whether you want to or not.'"
This seems more like a comment on the increasingly social nature of the web at large, but there's no question, Google is pushing this kind of social mentality.
"I was infuriated by this thing I saw on YouTube because it was yet another example of Google forcing people who use its products -- which are great products, by the way -- to join G+," Wheaton tells us. "As I've made clear, I love G+, and I love a lot of Google products, but if Google wants people to join, embrace, and enthusiastically use G+, they should make G+ awesome and compelling. What they're doing now -- forcing people to sign up by crippling a user experience with an existing product -- is just going to make people resent G+, and never give it a chance. That's a shame, because G+ is a great product that doesn't need to be force fed to people."
Again, the feature was only an experiment, but it's not like Google is going to stop looking for ways to increase Google+'s presence throughout its products. You can already see a lot of the integrations, if you go here.
- YouTube integrations, specifically, include: seeing videos your friends like, watching videos together in hangouts, sending videos to Circles, and +1ing videos.
- Search integrations include: personal results, profiles in search results, and the related people and pages feature.
- With Gmail, there's: finding emails from people in your circles, sharing photos, and seeing things shared by people in your circles that you got emails from.
- With Google Maps, you can send directions to people in your Circles.
- With Google Earth, you can send images of places to Google+.
- With Blogger, you can share posts to Google+ whenever you publish them and use the +1 counter on the dashboard.
- With Android, there's: Instant Upload of photos, group chat, video hangouts, and the nearby stream.
- With Chrome, theres: the Google +1 button extension for recommending sites and pages, and the Google+ Notifications extension to check Google notifications off of Google properties.
- With Google News, you can keep up with specific authors by following them on Google+, as they're displayed in News results. You can also see articles people in your circles have +1'd in the Spotlight section. Just this week, they announced that they're showing content from your Google+ circles in "Top Stories" and in a new realtime coverage section (a far cry from the realtime search feature they used to have, I might add, which included realtime tweets).
Clearly, there are a lot of useful ways Google can integrate its "social spine" into its various products, and there will no doubt be plenty of more, but as the experiment Wheaton wrote about shows, it's all in the implementation.
"I'm thrilled at the opportunity that I have as a content creator to release videos on YouTube," Wheaton tells us. "I couldn't do Tabletop without Google, and I'm grateful for the opportunity the company has given me. As a user, and as a creator, I want Google to keep making awesome products and making it possible for people like me to work outside of the traditional mainstream. I don't want Google to turn into another Facebook that just feels icky and intrusive."
Speaking of Facebook, that wasn't all he had to say on that. We asked Wheaton if he think Google+ is capable of achieving Facebook-like user numbers.
"Probably not, but that isn't Google's fault," he says. "Facebook has a significant head start, and has effectively captured a generation. Facebook is also demonstrably evil, though, so if Google offered a truly non-evil social network -- a real and meaningful alternative to Facebook -- it could probably attract huge numbers of people."
"Just think of the free publicity every time Facebook does something that intrudes on the privacy of its users, when Google can say, honestly, 'yeah, over at G+ we don't do that.' Unfortunately, as an advertising company, I don't see Google ever embracing that idea."
And Google is already facing pressures in advertising after two quarters in a row of substantial CPC declines. Revenue, however, was up 24% last quarter. It's also worth noting that Google hasn't even put ads on Google+ (the social destination) yet.