[Disclosure: I am long $GOOG, $AAPL, $MSFT. I currently have no position in $FB. I'm short $YHOO.]
Google+ has a grandparent problem. Namely, your grandparents aren’t on Google+. The degree of connectivity among real people is what gives Facebook such a huge edge in social networking. (Yes, I hear all the claims about teens abandoning Facebook because their parents are on it. But hear me out.)
What makes Facebook so popular is photo sharing. It’s what made Instagram popular. And Snapchat. And a whole host of other products. I’ve argued before that Marc Andreessen’s invention of the IMG tag (21 years ago next week!) was the single biggest reason for the explosion of the Web.
Fortunately for Google, it has a great photos product. It’s so much better than Facebook’s that it’s not even funny. But Facebook has distribution locked up. You could put photos on Google+ with its auto-awesome tools, full resolution pictures, etc. But no one will see them. I use Google+ Photos primarily as an archival tool; the same pictures are also uploaded to Facebook. Almost nobody views them in Google+; those same photos drive a lot of engagement and comments on Facebook. But Facebook compresses the hell out of photos, ignores metadata like location, keywords, and timestamps. Need to find a picture you posted to Facebook? Good luck! Flickr used to be good for this, but it was long neglected under previous Yahoo CEOs, and despite Marissa Mayer’s talks about reinvigorating Flickr, her actions haven’t kept pace.
Google has a secret weapon that it could use to increase distribution of photos and build out its grandparent network: its Chromecast streaming-media stick.
The Chromecast is a sleek product that connects to a TV and streams content like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Pandora. It doesn’t do personal pictures yet, but that could be an easy addition.
Grandma could plug in Chromecast and sit back and watch while beautiful photos of the grandkids show up on a big screen. Grandparents are among the earliest adopters of certain technologies — if it helps them stay in touch with grandkids (see: Skype).
A lot of companies have tried to make it easy to share photos with grandparents. There have been dial up picture frames like Cevia (the monthly fee made it too expensive). There are Wi-Fi picture frames (expensive, too hard to configure, and they have terrible user interfaces). One company even designed a printer that would print out photos for the grandparents remotely (too expensive, too clunky to set up).
Google has a huge advantage here: Chromecast costs $35. One time. Its set-up process is as simple as I’ve ever seen on a consumer connected device. Yes, it’s so easy that grandparents could do it.
The low price point also makes it an easily giftable item. Mother’s Day coming up? “Mom, here’s your granddaughter all year long.” The gifting process could also encompass preconfiguring the account so it is connected to the sender’s Google+ photo stream.
The television screen is the next big battleground in technology. Historically, consumer electronics manufacturers like Samsung and Philips have dominated the space. But their UI skills are sorely lacking. The Facebook app on my Vizio TV is laughably bad. TiVo has done some great work, but it’s a niche and expensive product. Comcast is trying to innovate with its new X1 platform (review forthcoming).
Apple, of course, has Apple TV. But services aren’t a strong suit for Apple. The current version of Apple TV has a Flickr app, but that doesn’t even support an authenticated view of Flickr. I think TV could be a really interesting opportunity for Facebook. But Facebook doesn’t think big enough.
That leaves Google. It has strong Web services, a device that fits the bill, and a broader ecosystem. A picture could go from an Android phone to a grandparent on the far side of the world in a matter of seconds — automatically. With the Google+ iOS apps, it could also make it there from iPhones.
And although I’ve spent this post talking about grandparents, I think the broader concept of seamless photo sharing to TVs has broad appeal. It’s just been done so poorly.
Seven years ago, I wrote about MeCasts coming to TVs. I’d love to see Google make it happen.
Rakesh Agrawal is a consultant focused on the intersection of local, social, mobile and payments. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local, mobile and search products for Microsoft, Aol and washingtonpost.com. He blogs at http://redesignmobile.com and tweets at @rakeshlobster.