Guy Kawasaki: Google+ Is The Mac Of Social Networks

Apple's former chief evangelist says he wrote What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us because, just as the Mac was the superior computer, Google+ is the best social network.

David Carr

September 7, 2012

15 Min Read
Network Computing logo

10 Best Business Tools In Google+

10 Best Business Tools In Google+

10 Best Business Tools In Google+ (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

How is Google+ like the Macintosh? For starters, they both have Guy Kawasaki on their side.

At the introduction of the Mac in 1984 and for the next several years, Kawasaki was the Apple's chief evangelist, and he remained an advocate for the product line after leaving the company. His latest book, What the Plus!, subtitled Google+ for the Rest of Us, represents the first time he has focused his writing on a single product since his first book, The Macintosh Way. Originally an e-book, What the Plus! has just been released in paperback by McGraw-Hill.

In total, Kawasaki has published 10 books on technology, marketing, and business strategy, including 2011's Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. He is a principal at Garage Technology Ventures and also the co-founder of Alltop, a news and blog aggregation website, which includes a section called Holy Kaw! (pronounced "holy cow!" like the "kaw" in his name).

[ Get the picture? Read: 10 Pinterest Pointers For Businesses. ]

Kawasaki says he felt compelled to write this book because he saw pundits who originally celebrated the launch of Google+ turning against it, and he wanted people to love the service the way he does.

"From my perspective, Google+ is to Facebook and Twitter what Macintosh is to Windows: better, but fewer people use it, and the pundits prophesy that it will fail," he wrote in the introduction. "As a lover of great products, this rankles my soul. I hate when people don't use the best tool. Sometimes people don't know that a better tool exists. Sometimes they know that it exists but not that it's better. Sometimes, they try the better tool, but the tool doesn't stick for them." To those who argue Google+ can never compete with the size of Facebook's audience, he replies, "My counterargument is that it's your own fault if you don't have a good time at a small party where there are many beautiful and interesting people."

While The Macintosh Way came from the experience of working at Apple, Kawasaki said he is merely a fan of Google+ and that Google did not recruit or hire him to write this book. While infused with his personality, much of the book reads like a technical manual, pointing out key features that distinguish the service, like the instant upload feature for automatically uploading photos from your phone and the photo editing features built into Google+. He presents a strategy for growing your network, curating content, and working with circles of contacts.

Guy Kawasaki's page on Google+ with his trademark numbered posts.

In addition to offering his own observations, Kawasaki included two guest author chapters. "How to Be a Little Fish in a Big Pond," by Peg Fitzpatrick, a marketing and social media executive, looks at how to build a successful following even if your name is not Guy Kawasaki. Lynette Young, the creator and curator of Women of Google+ provided "How to Thrive in the All-Boys' Club," including advice on how to deal with unwanted overtures from men.

Some of Kawasaki's general observations about building a network reminded me of what I read in Mark Schaefer's The Tao Of Twitter, but Kawasaki is convinced there is no comparison between the quality of Google+ and its rivals.

The Q&A below is condensed from a longer conversation.

Carr: I'm curious why you took it on yourself to write a book like this. Your books have some how-to content, but usually you're focused on bigger things like how to start a business or how to be an effective evangelist. This one is almost Google+ for Dummies.

Kawasaki: That's exactly what it is, a manual. I just really loved Google+. I saw so many people who didn't understand it, and I wanted to help them out.

It's a lot easier to write an e-book because you don't have to go through the proposal stage with a traditional publisher. Of course, come to find out, not so easy to do an e-book.

I just loved Google+, and I wanted to help people love it as much as I do.Carr: When did the e-book come out?

Kawasaki: The e-book came out March 2012, at South by Southwest. I wanted to self publish, and at the time I didn't know if traditional publishers would have done a book about Google+. They're looking for the critical mass question, too. They're looking for something with millions and millions of users. I didn't want to aggravate myself by going through all that, so I decided to self publish it.

Carr: But now it's out in paperback. One of the challenges of trying to document a service like this is it changes on, what, maybe a monthly basis? Things like screenshots can be outdated fairly quickly. Did you update it for the paper edition?

Kawasaki: The paper edition is pretty recent. I think it's about a month or so old.

There was a big change in the summer, but every day they add new features. I guarantee there are screen shots in there that are wrong.

Carr: What is it about Google+ that you think is so special? Give me some context. Do you make equal use of Facebook and Twitter. Has the pattern shifted?

Kawasaki: I would say my efforts are about 75% Google+, 20% Facebook, and 5% Twitter today. Let me explain the 5% Twitter, because from the outside looking in you would never figure that out.

The way I use Twitter is I have this website, Holy Kaw!, where we publish stories designed to elicit the reaction "holy cow!" We have people constantly writing up stories that have a link to the source. Those things become tweets from @guykawasaki. If you look at my feed, you'll see a few dozen posts a day, so it looks like I am very active on Twitter. But all of those are coming because of how I use Holy Kaw!

Carr: So Google+ is the one you invest more of your personal time and energy in. But I think you say in the book that when you first looked at Google+, you didn't understand what was the big deal until some of your friends convinced you.

Kawasaki: No, what happened originally was I was using it completely wrong. I was posting to a private circle--posting to where only 50 people could see it. As soon as I figured out that was what I was doing and started posting to the public, that's when I had the ah-ha moment.

Carr: You also make a comparison to blogging and say this is easier and more natural.

Kawasaki: Very much so.

Carr: How so?

Kawasaki: The Google+ economy--I think probably all of the social media economy--is based on links. It's not that you have original posts but you have found something to tell people to go read. Basically, that's all I do all day on Google+. As a journalist, you should appreciate that's very different from having to write 500 or 1,000 words a day.

Carr: In a few sentences, what is it that makes Google+ more attractive to you?

Kawasaki: Basically, I think the quality of comments and interaction is better there, particularly vis-a-vis Twitter, because with Twitter you're kind of limited.

Also, I like the aesthetics more. I think the Facebook Timeline is extremely confusing. I like to read from top to bottom, not left-right, left-right, left-right. I think the inclusion of pictures is better on Google+ and the album on Google+ is better than Facebook's. And of course, Twitter really has no [photo] inclusions, they have links.

Carr: I will say the book inspired me to go back and spend more time with Google+. I followed it in the beginning, and I've been keeping tabs on it, but you got me interested again. Things like the built-in photo editing that I hadn't played with before--that's pretty good stuff, just to be able to go in and crop a photo within the service rather than having to drop out to a separate tool on your computer.

Kawasaki: Have you tried simply typing in keywords to find people who are interested in things you're interested in?

Carr: Yes, although it's funny how the search wasn't very good in the beginning. Also, early on, I was frustrated because I had a Google Apps account and you could only use Google+ with a personal Gmail account. It seemed to take them forever to address that. Were there things you found frustrating?

Kawasaki: To this day, they don't have APIs so external apps can post. That's a frustration.

For a while, they changed the background of the picture area from white to black, and now it's gray. There were things wrong with the first Macintosh, too, I assure you. But nothing to turn me away from it.

Carr: What would make you compare Google+ to the Macintosh?

Kawasaki: Just the emotional reaction. It seemed so much better out the gate. I came from the Apple II world. The Apple II world was a pretty nice world, but the Macintosh was a religious experience, given how they did things so differently.Kawasaki: If you went from Twitter to Google+, it is like going from the Apple II or MS-DOS to the Macintosh.

I mean, 140 characters, no inline pictures. How do you follow a thread if you posted something and someone posted back to you? On Twitter, you have to search for @mentions. I have close to 1 million followers. Searching for @mentions of @guykawasaki brings back a lot of crap because people are retweeting me. So trying to maintain a threaded conversation is almost impossible.

By contrast, on Google+, if I post a link or post a message, the [message] threading is within that, so it's much easier to follow.

Carr: We keep seeing articles saying Google+ is a ghost town, that it's stalled, failed--nobody is talking about it anymore. But you're still talking about it.

Kawasaki: I would disagree nobody is talking about it. I think a lot of people are talking about it. It's coming back.

In ... let's say 1987, '88, '89, you could say nobody is talking about Macintosh. It's kind of stalled out, whatever. This is deja vu for me.

Carr: You also talk about the idea that it's not always self-evident, at least not to everybody, what the superior product is. We have this notion that this is the Web 2.0 era where everything flows naturally and everyone should intuitively understand your product.

Kawasaki (laughing): Yeah. Uh-huh.

Carr: Is that a fantasy?

Kawasaki: It's a fantasy, and I think it will continue to be a fantasy.

Carr: Well, how has Facebook gotten to be Facebook? Was it on the basis of people writing books about how to use Facebook?

Kawasaki: It was in the right place at the right time--and what else would you use, at the time? It became sort of this upward spiral. If your classmate in high school used Facebook, and you wanted to stay in touch and be cool, you had to use Facebook.

Drawing the same parallel, if your buddy used MS-DOS and your company wanted to be compatible, you used MS-DOS. We still have a QWERTY keyboard today; there are better designs for keyboards. It's one of those things. Standards get established, but they're not necessarily optimal. Having said that, you know, MySpace was a standard and five years ago we were all saying MySpace was going to control the world, and MySpace would be the operating system of the Internet. I guess we were wrong.

Carr: Were you ever a MySpace fan?

Kawasaki: Uh, no.

Carr: There's another theory that Google doesn't really care about Google+ per se succeeding as a social network. The secret plan is that Google+ is designed to pump human input into Google search algorithms. As long as they have enough people using it for that purpose, that's all they care about.

Kawasaki: I'll answer that this way: Let's suppose that that's true. So what? Let's suppose it's not true. So what?

Either it's an interesting place for your social interaction, or it's not. If you want to have this conspiracy theory, God bless you. I just don't understand why it matters. You either like it, or you don't.

Carr: What was your process for writing this book? Did you just sit down and write, or were you bouncing ideas off of people?

Kawasaki: I bounced a lot of ideas off a lot of people. I would say it took me two to three months to write this book, and about a hundred people tested it for me. This was an interesting experiment in crowdsourcing because I posted the entire Word document and let people hammer on it. The typos a copy editor would have found--in fact, the copy editor found even more--but what was very useful is I remember about 25 good ideas about how to improve the book came from the crowd. So this was crowdsourced editing.

Carr: What were some of those things?

Kawasaki: Factual corrections, better ways to do things. I don't remember them all; it was so long ago.

Carr: Was writing this book a profitable venture in its own right?

Kawasaki: Depends how you value my time. So far, I have probably made $30,000 or something. I make more than that giving a speech. Purely from a money standpoint, you could say, 'Guy, you could make a speech or you could spend three months working on a book.' But this positions me very well in the social media world.

If Google+ succeeds, trust me I'm going to be screaming from the mountaintop that I said so.

And if Google+ fails, I just won't mention it.

Carr: The book talks about posting the same thing to multiple networks to save time. Do you recommend that?

Kawasaki: Very few social media "experts" would agree with me, but if you have a good post, to a good link, it can be identical to all three services. A good post is a good post. Now, on Facebook and Google+, every post has to have a picture. If you look at my posts on Google+, every one of them has a picture. That's a little different for Twitter.

If I could be in Google+ and post everything else identically [to the other social networks], I think that's the ideal situation. You can kind of do it. But there is a theory--some people say when Facebook sees a post coming in from one of these tools that lets you cross-post, it does not display it as much as if it were posted manually. So they're trying to punish you for cross posting.

I don't know if that's true or not. But if it is, that is a factor.

Carr: Are there any features you wish Google+ had that are better on other services?

Kawasaki: I wish there was, for example, a TweetDeck of Google+--a program hardwired and hardcoded for optimizing Google+.Carr: Do you use Google+ from your phone?

Kawasaki: What I do is when I take a picture, I let it instant upload. Then, when I get back to my computer, I compose something that goes with that photo.

Also, I have a very unusual practice where I number my posts every day. At midnight Pacific, I reset the number [and start over from number one]. With my phone, I just snap a picture and if it's really compelling, I'll just post it without figuring out what post it is for that day.

Carr: I know you mention this in the book, but what's the purpose of numbering your posts?

Kawasaki: There are two purposes. One is for myself--to help me remember how many times I post, so I don't post too much.

The other is I have this fantasy that people will follow me, and some of those people will see post 9, and that will make them wonder about posts 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, so they will go look for the things they missed from me. The only way someone will know they missed something from me is if they see number 9 and they know there was a number 8.

That's my theory. Nobody else believes in that theory.

Carr: Are here any connections between this book and your others, such as Enchantment?

Kawasaki: At the end of the [Google+] book, there's a whole section on how to be enchanting online. I discuss how to write enchanting comments, responses, and posts.

Carr: What do you think this book has accomplished, or what do you hope it will accomplish?

Kawasaki: Lots of people have said to me what you said, which is, if I hadn't read this book, I never would have looked at Google+ again. So that accomplished something--maybe it was better for Google than for me.

You know, I'm at this strange midpoint in my life. I'm not filthy rich so nothing matters, but I'm not desperately poor so everything matters. I'm kind of in the middle. This is a kind of an in-the-middle book. I'm not writing the book because I'm desperate to make money. On the other hand, if I was filthy rich I wouldn't write anything at all; I'd be a recluse.

I'm in the middle!

Carr: So you can afford to do something just because it appeals to you. Was it fun to write this book?

Kawasaki: Yes. It's hard to disguise my love for Google+.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights