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Google Plus: A Web Designer’s Perspective On Failure

I talked a while back about how web design is secretly a service industry, and I wanted to come back and expand on that a little bit. I was reading Graywolf’s SEO Blog a few days ago, and something he said stuck in my head.

He said that Google Plus sucks because Google isn’t trying to build a social platform — it’s trying to build an information-gathering system that looks like a social platform. It’s designed to allow you to be social, but it’s not designed with the goal of facilitating your social relationships. Its goal is to learn more about you by what you include in your Circles so that Google can return ‘better’ search results via the Personalized Search Results button, and because of that, it misses out on several things that would make it easier to socialize on Google Plus.

How Web Designers Can Learn From Google’s Failure
Are you making the same mistake that Google made? What are the chances that, of the last few websites you’ve designed, at least one of them had elements in it that weren’t designed to facilitate your client’s clients in accomplishing their goals? It’s very easy for web designers to design pages for the company — and there’s nothing wrong with that if the page isn’t going to be seen by customers. But if you’re making a public page that you intend to receive organic search traffic, your design goal should always be “allow the end user to XYZ”.

Web designers have a complex double-duty to serve, of course — they have to build for their clients and their clients’ clients at the same time — which can complicate things. Most obviously, if your client is trying to pull a Google Plus on his clients, you don’t have a lot of choice except to support him in it (except perhaps offer your advice to the contrary). Outside of this wrinkle, though, you should be giving your clients what they want by giving your client’s clients what they want.

Bonus Lesson: How Businesses Can Learn From Google’s Failure
As long as I’m semi-ranting, let’s take on a bigger target: businesses. Just walking the streets of Detroit, I’d guess, looking around, that some 40% of small businesses are guilty of this mistake — and it’s at least double that for Internet-only businesses. They sell one thing, but making that thing and doing it awesomely isn’t their goal. Most often their goal is “making money” — and like all self-serving goals, it ultimately fails. Businesses succeed when they’re based on loving what you’re doing and wanting to do it well.

Just ask yourself: when’s the last time that you read a business success story where the owner said “Yeah, well, I don’t particularly like what I’m doing, but hey, it’s a paycheck”? The answer is ‘never’ because the businesses that succeed are the ones that are devoted to doing something that customers want, and doing it well. In Google’s case “giving detailed information about my habits and desires to a massive multinational corporate entity” isn’t a goal that anyone has, and their attempt to force that goal down your throat via Google Plus isn’t going to do any better than Google Buzz did a couple of years ago.

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