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Google’s Long History of Forcing You To Use G+

When Google+ was launched with much fanfare in 2011, the social media world was abuzz with praise and high expectations. Tech Crunch called it “social, bold, fun and looking good”. Early reviews praised the functions and circle features, but had issues with the lack of activity (which was probably just because Google rolled out Google+ only to a select few at first). Most reviewers thought it was a good network, but that it wouldn’t be enough to break Facebook’s hold on social media; Business Insider concluded that “At the end of the day, Google+ is a solid product on its own. But it’s not rich or new enough to get people to make the switch.”

Not discouraged on its mission to dominate the web, Google+ has not only maintained its mildly (on Internet terms) popular service (with about 300 million active users) but has also attached numerous services and features to Google+ functionalities. For example, a +1 on a piece of content raises your search ranking position much more than a Facebook or Twitter share, and so does a share on G+’s feed. But these were only the first steps of Google+’s user acquisition strategy, which Dave Llorens of Fast Company has called “the carrot and not the stick”. What other carrots are there, and how does the new Gmail/G+ messaging scheme enter into that strategy? Let’s take a look.

Google Authorship–Get the writers!

The next step of Google’s strategy was to help content producers (mostly writers) to claim their content and help publicize their writing online. By adding a Google authorship tag (attached to a Google+ profile, of course), both the writer and the publication received an SEO bonus. 

Google Authorship promises a boost in SEO rankings for verified writers of high-quality content on respectable websites. However, it REQUIRES a Google+ profile to work. If your author doesn’t have a G+ profile, Authorship can’t happen, and you would lose the nice ranking boost. So, here’s one way to force all respectable web writers to get a Google+ account.

Happily, Google Authorship has positive consequences for respectable content writers around the world: it is slowly smothering the low-quality, link-baiting guest post industry, as explained by Rohit Palit in Search Engine Journal. So, someone like me who cares about useful content and good writing is willing to humour G+ with an account if it helps kill the industry that’s hurting our reputation and keeping our wages artificially low.

Google Places–Business does G+

The next step was to get at the business listing industry. We usually suggest to Stikky clients who have a brick-and-mortar store or office to claim and populate their Google Places listing… which becomes a Google+ page for the business at the same time. And with automatic integration to Google Maps, Google made it very hard to resist getting a Google Places account.

As claiming your Google Place automatically claims your Google Plus page for the business, Google strongly suggests that you use your G+ page to connect with other users. And using Google+ on a regular basis also improves your SEO.

More importantly, Google Places business listings now integrates information from a bunch of other business listing and review sites such as Zagat and ratings left on Google Plus. By using everything it knows about you and the people you interact with on Google Plus, Google is able to give you the information that’s most likely to be relevant to you through its own ratings and reviews system. It’s basically like Yelp, but better.

Google Apps–Communicate at work

Instead of using a number of communication and collaborating tools like Yammer and Skype, many businesses have made a complete switch to Google-based communications. They use G+ circles for chatting among teams and the company, Hangout for video and voice calls, Google Docs for collaborative writing and document management, and of course Gmail for email. When everything’s in the same place with the same accounts, everything’s just easier… and Google makes it easy to do just that.

Adding the circle functionality of Google Plus to manage work teams in a company, especially if workers are remote, is an especially strong way to use G+ once companies switch to Google-only communications. 

Gmail integration–Talk to strangers

After all these integrations between all Google tools, it should come as no surprise that Google came up with yet another way to “interest” people in Google Plus: the ability to send an email to any Google Plus user through Gmail. Although no email addresses are exchanged in the process, it still gives total strangers the ability to send you an email that you will get in your Gmail inbox.

Like most of Google’s features, this will happen automatically to anyone with a G+ account–and thus by extension anyone with a Gmail account. When the feature is rolled out, you will be able to opt out of it through your settings. However, automatically enrolling everyone in the feature raises privacy problems. As Dante D’Orazio notes, “it turns a private space — your inbox — into a social one.” 

Personally, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to let random strangers email me. I already get enough strange events that randomly appear on my Google Calendar through G+. I would feel better about it if it went into a different folder of my email so it doesn’t clog my inbox. Not that I think I will get emails from strangers, because I don’t really have that kind of clout on Google Plus (or elsewhere) and I don’t really spend time on it either.

I imagine that this will mostly affect major influencers, thought leaders and other “social-media-important” people who have tons of followers. The ability to email your favourite blogger or writer directly instead of leaving a comment in an already busy timeline seems attractive, for sure. But maybe they will be the ones to push back against this new feature, since they are probably the ones who will see their inboxes filled with emails from their fans. Or maybe they’ll just turn the feature off and forget about it.

What do you think? Should Google turn back on this feature or is the ability to opt out enough for you? What do you think is the next step to Google’s internet domination?

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