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Will Google run Circles around the #dickbar?

2011, google

The internet buzz is firmly focussed on the news that Google may be launching Google Circles later today. All of the reports (including this one) point back to a single data point at ReadWriteWeb, though it gained wider notoriety by being mentioned on Business Insider such that it’s actually a twitter trending topic at the moment.

Although this is speculation at the moment, the timing couldn’t be better. FaceBook continues its world domination – with 4% of the human population using it daily – but whilst rough-riding over privacy concerns. Twitter, the darling poster child of the social media, has recently infuriated users with the addition of a dickbar, and spawned several imitations, such as DigDog’s UIDickBar as well as Mark Beeson’s JavaScript dickbar. But to pour (salt|vinegar) into an open wound, Twitter recently decided to change its terms to make it difficult for third-party developers to use the Twitter APIs.

Arguably why Buzz failed as a means of social co-ordination at Google (and why Google Chat succeeded) was that the former was based on a single web client with no general-purpose API to permit other clients to be built or integrate with the system. Google Chat, on the other hand, was immediately compatible with many other clients which meant that a single means of access wasn’t forced down the user’s throats.

Meanwhile, Twitter has already demonstrated that it is incapable of keeping up with client side development, and is now seeking to follow Microsoft’s lead in terms of surviving by extinguishing competition.

As Patrick Copeland admitted at QCon last week, Wave failed because it didn’t have a purpose. Although many people tried it out, not many returned or kept coming back, so killing it was the pragmatic decision. Buzz is in a similar situation; many people looked at it (because it came from Google) and whilst it was more flexible in commenting and threaded replying to others, few actually used Buzz directly. Partially this is because the web client sucked; it’s also because few used it as a direct system. (Almost all of the followers I follow on Buzz are just tweets from people I follow on Twitter, and with my tweets being recorded on my Buzz bar, the same is likely true on reverse. I only know of two people who use Buzz as a primary means of communication; and of those two, one is a long-time twitterer as well and the other has recently joined twitter.) The other usability fail is that it kept sending emails whenever you posted something – almost as if you didn’t know what you were saying – with the result that there’s over a million hits explaining how to disable this “feature”

So, what could Google innovate on? Well, to be a success (over and above Buzz), it has to have:

  • An open API, probably backed with OpenID/OAuth/OAuth2 to permit additional clients being developed
  • A way of *not* having any and all messages delivered to your e-mail, especially when it’s from yourself
  • Have a way of associating groups of people and defining groups by role, e.g. “public”, “friends”, “work colleagues”, “family” and have a way of switching visibility on a per-message basis
  • A way of uploading video/pictures along with text messages, probably from portable mobile devices with cameras

On top of all this, Google almost certainly needs to have a couple of native clients, not just a web client, to demonstrate that anyone can join in. Whilst the web client – like Twitter.com – will remain the ‘default’ means of accessing, having an updated Google Mobile for iPhones (and similarly for Android) to provide a means of status updates, location posting, image/video capture and uploading will be a necessary part in the puzzle, as well as the API support to permit other developers to play in the game as well.

So, is Circles an incredibly well timed piece of luck? Or is it just a lot of hot air spawned off by a single report? Either way, we’ll see if in the next couple of days what the answer is, and how close it comes to fulfilling the requirements above.