Whether or not you like Google+ one thing is clear: Google is all in on this one. Unlike Wave or Buzz which were halfhearted launches at best, Google+ is being woven deeply into everything Google does, including of course search, maps and Android. This is an all out assault with all of Google’s resources applied to it and anyone who dismisses it does so at their own peril and is ignoring an important historical precedent.
Google’s efforts here are reminiscent of Microsoft’s push into the application space. Even the motives are similar. For Microsoft: if people care about applications and those applications run equally well on different Operating Systems, then the OS (eventually) doesn’t matter. For Google: if people spend all their time in social services, then (eventually) search will be a feature of those services (because they will have all the relevant information about the searcher). In other words, in both cases the push is motivated by a desire to protect an existing hugely profitable business.
The strategy for doing so is bundling the new offering with the existing market dominant one. In the era of Microsoft the main advantages of bundling were physical distribution and access to proprietary APIs. The latter allowed Microsoft to deliver a better product experience and the former let them reach customers more cheaply. The combination was a potent one and allowed Microsoft to wipe out their application competitors. Anyone remember Wordperfect? Or Visicalc? Or Lotus 1-2-3? They all became historical footnotes.
Could the same happen for today’s social services? Can narrow services such as Twitter or broader ones such as Facebook be attacked by Google through “bundling” their competing services with search and with each other? The distribution argument is not as strong as it used to be, as a services are generally just a click or app install away. In its place, however, there is now a powerful attention routing opportunity. If I look at a screen literally dozens of times a day, as I do with Google search, and there is a little red number in the top right telling me I have got some information waiting for me, that is hard to ignore (and has me thinking about using Google logged out instead). As in the previous era, access to proprietary APIs would let Google integrate more deeply into Google maps, for example, than third parties like foursquare could. Finally, leveraging intent data is potentially the most powerful competitive weapon for Google based on bundling. Knowing my entire search history, Google might be able to filter a stream more effectively than either Facebook or Twitter.
None of this means that Google will succeed but it is for sure we are heading into a very interesting time period in the market that will be marked by conflict. As Ben Horowitz pointed out so presciently in April: Larry Page is going to be a wartime CEO.