“Rule number one when launching a social network: Make everyone wait in line,” Rolfe Winkler of the Wall Street Journal quips about Google+ and its “invitation only” launch strategy.
Exclusivity was how, in its early days, Facebook built buzz, Winkler notes. “For more than two years, you couldn’t get in unless you had an email address ending in .edu.” Google is using a similar strategy with Google+, but it isn’t the first time.
Some of you might remember when Gmail first launched, or when Google Voice first launched, both services were “by invitation only.” None of that means Google+ is a certain winner. It is competing with Facebook, after all, social networking’s clear leader so far.
Nor have all Google products succeeded in the marketplace. In fact, Google frequently finds its products don’t get traction. But Google keeps innovating, even when observers are not sure they understand why Google wants to do something, or whether Google has the skills to succeed.
The point is that Google+ is using an adoption strategy that has worked for it before, namely using the exclusivity angle to build interest and demand. It is only a casual observation, but having gotten early invitations to GMail and Google Voice, I made GMail my permanent email choice and still use Google Voice, just about some part of every day.
But there is “rule number two,” which is that a new service has to offer a better user experience in some way that is meaningful for end users, especially when a newer contestant has to compete with the category leader. There will be huge inertia built into the Facebook user base, because of the network effect.
If you ever have been asked to test a new voice service that required distributing a new phone number, or a new email service that required changing your email address, you know the “moat” that surrounds any popular, market-leading service.
Google+ will have to confront the Facebook “moat.” For that reason, some think Google+ will succeed initially as a supplermental service to Facebook, rather than a replacement.
Google+ represents a series of linked services, so it might not have to displace Facebook “directly,” right away. I can already tell you that my own experience so far is that Google+ “Circles” are a much-better way to organize the many different “groups” one actually cares about, in real life.
But there is some wisdom in the “invitation only” introduction strategy. It seems to be working, as people find they cannot get an early invitation.