24 Google+ improvements are bigger than you think

If you're a heavy Google user, every day is like Christmas -- well, in 2012. Not a day goes by that the company doesn't release something new. Updates are relentless, with products in continual states of improvement. Today's touted 18 24 Google+ enhancements are examples. Editor's note: Hours after we posted, Google changed the number from 18 to 24. The approach is philosophical and corporate cultural and defies traditional software development cycles Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and others adopted long ago. The relentless releases is for stuff Google mostly gives away for free. Now why is that?

Years ago, I wrote several seething stories about perpetual Google betas (Gmail was 5 years, right?) and Microsoft somewhat mimicking the approach. (I can't find the stories this morning. If you can, please link in comments.) The search giant's work was never done, while competitors rolled major enhancements together made available all at once on long lead cycles (Hey, three years separate Windows 7 and 8 launches). Microsoft chooses the big blockbuster movie approach, which predicates a work largely done -- a story completely told. Google is the serialist, telling an ongoing story in a quick succession of releases. Which works better? You tell me.

Think Differently

I know which has more marketing punch, more meaningful customer impact. Would you rather get one big present once a year, or lots of little ones everyday? Apple and Microsoft purvey the big and Google the small, and I sure remember the little things more. They're constant reminders the giver innovates and cares about products, and customers gain new benefits on regular basis. Google's approach is part practical, from an Internet company moving at a faster pace, since the first dot-com boom, counts in dog days not dog years. The strategy is logistical, too, since as a cloud company Google can easily dispatch new features to customers. But fundamentally, it's all corporate cultural, reflecting a very different way of doing business that is core to Google's collective character.

Some of that derives from the business and target customer base. Microsoft derives profits directly from software, Google from advertising and other services bundled around search. People tend to have greater expectations about things they pay for. Microsoft largely sells to businesses, among which IT administrators resist change. For many of them, even three years is too soon between desktop or server software upgrades.

From that perspective, early days Google, as a corporate entity, didn't necessarily feel its stuff was as valuable. The direct value to the company came from search and profits directly derived from it. Additional Google products and services were a means to an end. But search isn't sustainable alone. It's not sticky. Anyone can change search engines by typing in a new web address. So Google released additional products, like Gmail and Maps, that are sticky. Fast-forward to 2012 and Google offers a broad array of stick apps and services, the majority still given away for free. The ongoing updating approach -- essentially perpetual states of unnamed betas -- once starting from something less valuable (because its free) today makes the stuff more valuable to users. Something new and improved is always just a short stop ahead.

Never Perfect

The approach also means Google developers needn't worry about getting everything perfect -- they just roll out stuff when it's ready and improve features over time. Google also masks shortcomings. For example, last week the company launched Communities, essentially groups, as part of Google+. But there was no mobile support. For a company which primary development focus is now mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, the omission puzzled me. As someone who primarily uses Google+ on Nexus 4, 7 or 10, I was quite irked. Today, Google updated the Android and iOS apps to support Communities (versions 3.3 and 4.0, respectively).

Another compelling Google+ feature is Instant Upload. Android and iOS users can set their phones to automatically send new photos to a private folder on the cloud service. But Google compresses images and reduces their size to 2048 pixels wide. With today's Google+ for Android update, there is a "full size" option, which on my devices was enabled by default on installation. I long have disdained the size restriction. So, again, Google fixed a shortcoming. But it's not free. The compressed option is free, while the other takes up cloud storage that users pay for beyond 5GB.

Google also improves Hangouts On Air, Events and more. You can get granular details and see other users' reactions in realtime using the #seasonforshipping hashtag.

Owners' Pride

Apple gets seemingly constant kudos across the InterWebs for innovation. But by what measure? Google innovates in ways you can see every day in some product somewhere. That's for stuff most of us don't pay for and from which the company doesn't derive direct revenue. That leads me to the final corporate cultural quality, and it defies standard business practice. Talk to any Googler, and they believe their products, their company, will make the world a better place -- that they will empower humankind. Behind that there is drive to keep the relentless pace of development going.

Some of that corporate attitude comes from ownership. Public companies often follow a very different moral agenda than the people who run or work for them. They are beholden to shareholders, which put money first. Hence, the first moral objective is generating profits -- by any means. While Google is public, three people own the majority of the stock -- Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Companies tend to more strongly reflect the values of the owners, who often feel strong parental sense about the organization's sense. Then there is the greater freedom to step back from the demands other shareholders place on public companies.

Google has its problems, for sure. I have written about them in the past and surely will do more in the future. But as a company that constantly innovates, in ways visible and meaningful to anyone using its products, Google stands apart from the Apples and Microsofts. Isn't that obvious?

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