Well, there’s one thing you can say about Google+ now, at least on the iPhone: It doesn’t look like a cubicle or smell like a hospital anymore. Google says the new app is a “feast for the eyes.” It’s actually like a feast made up of nothing but towering desserts, with visuals so rich and fatty you’ll want to throw up after taking a few bites. And then you’ll close the app and not come back for a few months, because it’s Google+.
This is a lush app. I kind of imagine Google saying, “People think we can’t do design? Oh yeah? Look at how much DESIGN we packed into this app. Boom. Design.” When you open it for the first time, it seems thoroughly standard — you can quickly get to your Stream, Profile, Messenger, Photos and Circles, just like the redesigned Google+ site — but once you’re inside, it’s like visual candyland. Giant, screen-consuming photos for every item in your stream (which makes it feel heavy), rich transition animations everywhere (even just going to the next item in your stream entails a fade/pop-in animation), aggressively modern fonts and text overlays. It is The Works With A Cherry On Top. (I’d be remiss in not pointing out, though, that chunks of the aesthetic definitely feel borrowed from Twittelator Neue — the fonts, the way banner images are used everywhere.)
The only thing that’s missing is a reason to use Google+. I have well over a hundred people in circles, but all I see in my streams are the same handful of people posting, over and over and over again, usually to the same handful of sites, over and over again. Everybody’s gone.
John made the point a month ago that CEO Larry Page’s Google+ isn’t like anybody else’s. Because he’s Larry Page, he has the best Google+ experience in the world, where yes, rocket scientists will comment on his Google+ posts. Because he’s Larry Page. But for everybody else, it’s “like talking into a pillow” and there’s “nobody there except people you don’t care about.” I just used Messenger to ping one my friends who still actually uses Google+ to post things, and he replied, “I’ve never used this before.”
People use Facebook because everybody they know is on it; Twitter to get news or broadcast things; Foursquare to see where their friends are or find places to go; Instagram to peer in on people’s lives or show off their own; Path because it’s the most personal social network. That’s why those things exist, as far as users are concerned. Why does Google+ exist for users? (We know why it exists for Google.)
This new app, as sugar sweet as the user experience is, doesn’t change the fact that Google+ as a social network doesn’t give us a fundamental reason to use it instead of, or in addition to, all of the other social networks we already use. Uploading photos with its new Instant Upload is indeed a wonderful, seamless experience that’s the fastest, most painless way to share photos I’ve ever used, but I’m not going to use it instead of Instagram. It’s sometimes nice to write more than 140 characters, but I’ve got Tumblr for that. And Messenger is a nice little messaging feature, but I’ve already got Google Talk and Gmail and Facebook Messenger, which my friends actually use.
Simply being beautiful isn’t necessarily a reason to exist either, unless you’re a supermodel. Put another way, the new Google+ app, gorgeous as it may be, still doesn’t answer the basic question Mat Honan and I had last summer: What the hell are we supposed to put on Google+? Do you know?