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This Name Lacks an Object: Google+ Name Review

By Laurel Sutton

August 17, 2011

Like all techies great and small, I was all over the news of Google’s answer to Twitter/Facebook: Google+. Even though I have an account, I still haven’t figured out how to use it properly, and I don’t think I’m alone. Is it a replacement for Twitter? An addition? Something that’s just for cool kids? This is definitely one of those times where I fear I’m not getting it.

The name might have something to do with this lack of focus. First there’s the fact that Google is counting on you to pronounce the symbol “+” as “plus”, so that the name is actually “Google Plus”, and in fact that’s the web address (http://plus.google.com). That’s a bit of confusion already, since “+” in English could just as easily be interpreted as the word “and”, as in “salt + pepper” (no one on earth has actually uttered the phrase “salt plus pepper”, to my knowledge).

But the bigger issue is: plus what?

“Plus” is one of those squishy marketing words that lets you get away with a huge promise for something vague and good-er sounding. What’s the “plus” in Kellogg’s FiberPlus? Antioxidents? While grains? Taste? Likewise, the “plus” in Efferdent Plus could refer to the mint flavor, or the fact that it apparently works on retainers as well as dentures (they’re really trying to expand their market!).

So we’ve got the Google brand, which stands for the simple, clean, utilitarian, free (for the most part) alternative to closed houses like Microsoft and Apple. What more “plus” do you want? If Google is really aiming to take over social media, why isn’t it called Google Social? Perhaps it’s just meant to say “Hey, we made Google better!” in an Efferdenty way. But it’s a significant break from the simple, clean, utilitarian naming convention (Google Maps, Google Apps, Google Mail) that helped them stand out in an incredibly crowded space.

Going with a name like Google+ almost feels like there’s something to hide here. Consumers have grown to count on Google to tell them straight up what’s being offered, and the use of “plus” adds a weird, uncomfortable layer to their brand.

Within Google+, the feature names are by turn descriptive (Circles – the people you follow, grouped by relationship to you), suggestive (Hangouts – live video chatting), and kinda arbitrary (Sparks – feed of interesting news & articles, based on your interests). Are we witnessing naming by committee? Make up your minds!

Of course, the reality is that no one will use – or not use – Google+ based on the name. They could have called it something silly like Orkut and people would still use it, if it was simple, clean, utilitarian, and free. Oh, wait…

Name Grade: B

Grade:
B
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