Cyberclinic: Do social networks need games to be 'sticky'?
Wednesday 17 August 2011
Hats off to Google+ for becoming the fastest-growing website in history. In the space of a month the social network has welcomed 25million excitable users – but are they all happy with their new piece of internet real estate?
Indeed, are they even bothering to pop in? It was notable during the recent riots that while Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger took a hammering for daring to be used by rioters, no one blamed Google+. I glanced at Google+ during that week and noted a few people had thumbed up a picture of a Victoria sponge that someone had baked the week before.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with Google+, but like Facebook, it's merely a place where you look at stuff your friends have decided to post. That was always going to be its core function, and you wonder what those disappointed users who have strayed away were expecting from it.
Maybe they were looking to rid themselves of their disillusionment with Facebook, in the same way that a couple in a badly floundering relationship will go on holiday to Croatia to rediscover why they fell in love in the first place, then ultimately return home feeling a bit glum.
The problem is getting us to stay on Google+ for long periods – or, in that unfortunate piece of web parlance, making the website "sticky". The plan Google implemented last Friday was to offer us some games. Now, you don't really associate Google with gaming any more than you associate Jacob Rees-Mogg MP with rollerblading, but the company knows exactly how games gave Facebook a shot in the arm.
The maker of Farmville, Zynga, was instrumental in sustaining Facebook's growth, while Facebook almost single-handedly made Zynga the force it is today. (There's probably a brilliant biological metaphor there, but I'm struggling to find it.)
Anyway, a selection of 16 games has been made available on Google+, including the award-winning time-waster, Bejeweled. It may only involve getting three coloured blobs in a line, but it's incredibly addictive; high scores have more to do with luck than judgement so, like a fruit machine, you wait impatiently for it to bestow success upon you. You click, you click, your cup of tea gets cold, your partner leaves you taking the children. If anything will keep people on Google+, it's Bejeweled.
But Bejeweled is already on Facebook, along with a mass of other games. Google has been applauded for discreetly hiding these games behind a separate tab, so users aren't endlessly informed that some passing acquaintance has found a stash of rare Gold Horseshoe collectibles in Zynga Poker – but the ones applauding are the ones that don't like online games in any case.
Essentially, the people who have taken to Google+ seem to have done so because of the relative peace and quiet. Perhaps Google should emphasise that when selling the service. "The social network where you make scant but meaningful connections with limited numbers of friends."
One stride forward in the Google+ arena has been made in its Hangouts service, which normally connects people together via webcam to create a festival of awkward, slightly stilted exchanges.
Technology consultant Lee Allison, however, quickly twigged that it might be perfect for hosting cooking demonstrations – and that's what he's doing, showcasing recipes such as Crab Rangoon with Fried Rice. Yum. Classes are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; while Google+ imposes a limit of 10 viewers per broadcast, Allison plans to vault over that restriction by launching his own startup called the Social Skillet.
As a borderline hypochondriac, I now demand an enterprising GP to launch the Social Surgery.
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