Google hasn’t had much success in the social networking arena. It has tried and failed on two previous occasions, first with Google Wave and then with Buzz, and its third and strongest attempt with Google+ hasn’t been very successful either.
A big problem with Google’s products, even the successful ones, is that they are very loosely integrated with each other. For example, as a website designer and administrator, I access Google AdSense, Webmaster Tools and Analytics on a daily basis. But these three applications are very poorly integrated with each other, if at all. As a result, I have to navigate between them by typing their URLs in the browser’s address bar, just as if I was moving to a different site altogether.
More notably, there is a complete absence of integration between Google’s social products, particularly Google+, GMail and Picasa (now Google Photos). Given that Google is up against the likes of Facebook, such a design flaw is not just inexplicable but bizarre.
Lack of integration among products means that you are neither leveraging the success of an existing product to promote a new product, nor making it easy for users to discover new services and applications that may be on offer. It also reduces the visibility of, and incentive to check out, new applications if they are not presented upfront to users of existing services.
So here’s my suggestion for tighter integration between Google’s suite of “social” applications such as GMail, Picasa/Google Photos and Google+ (with the probable future addition of Blogger).
I suggest that Google+ should have an additional button titled Mail on the top level tab, beside the Home/Photos/Profile/Circles buttons. And this top level tab, which is currently shown only on Google+ pages, should be extended to Gmail and Picasa/Google Photos. See image below for what I mean:
What this means is:
1. If a user logs into Gmail, it should be possible for him to switch between his GMail and Google+ accounts by just clicking on the Home and Mail buttons on the top level tab. Essentially this means making Google+ like Facebook, and replacing Facebook’s primitive Messaging section with GMail (and making it THAT easy to switch between Google+ and GMail).
This means GMail as a separate and isolated application will cease to exist. Rather, it will become part of Google+ and could be called Google+ Messages or Google+ Mail. It will be a unified application to send messages to Google+ friends and email to anyone else in the world. And to further cement this perception of integration with Google+, the GMail composer’s contact auto-complete tool should also suggest Google+ friends and circles, apart from Gmail contacts (similar to auto-completion in the “Share what’s new” box in Google+).
See image below for what I mean.
2. If a user logs in directly to Picasa/Google Photos, he should be taken to Google+’s Photos section. It does not make any sense at all to offer the same service through two different products as is being done currently (Google+ and Picasa). So just like GMail, Picasa as a separate application will cease to exist.
See image below:
3. In future, this can be extended to include Blogger by adding another Blog button at the top, clicking on which will take the user to the Blogger dashboard.
This sort of tight and visible integration would make navigation between Google’s social applications extremely simple and visible, thereby compelling users to spend time on more services and on a more regular basis.
Also, in addition to showing static icons, Google could also show the number of unread items on each button, just as Facebook does today. So the Mail button could show the number of unread emails, while the Home button would show number of new Google+ notifications. A future Blog button could show the number of comments that are unread or awaiting moderation.
In future, a user could be given a choice to add services of his choice to the Google+ top level tab, which would then be shown across every product and service of Google. Then, the top level tab would be like the Windows taskbar or the OS X dock, displaying a list of shortcuts to frequently used Google web services (instead of installed applications).