Google+ Communities just launched, providing a way for anyone to create a discussion group or forum, as part of Google+. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges that the service faces is how some people are hyping it. Let me get a few things out of the way.
Google+ Communities does not change anything. Things are exactly the same today as they were the day before the functionality launched. Google+ Communities is not anything new, except within the world of Google+. Google+ Communities does not, will not kill anything, whether a specific branded platform (like Facebook) or a type of platform (like forums).
And it is a shame that I feel the need to start the post that way because none of that is a bad thing. I think that Google+ Communities are actually pretty cool, as long as you see them for what they are. They serve a need similar to the one that Facebook Groups and Yahoo! Groups serve. If you want to bring people together on a popular, third party platform (or if you specifically want to bring them together on Google+), then you have found what you are looking for. If you are Google and you want to draw people deeper into Google+, this is a means of doing that.
I have already been invited to a few and though I don’t really have any intention of participating regularly, I think they are very nice and, for people who use and love Google+, they are a great way to host conversations on that platform.
If you laud them as much more than that, or expect them to be much more than that, I don’t think you are being fair to them. You are setting yourself up to be disappointed.
Google+ Communities is not a replacement for anything, much less forums or message boards. That is exactly what Google+ Communities are: forums. They should be counted as such. Threaded discussions organized into categories. That’s one of the real stories here, that Google+ is embracing forums in such a meaningful way. Obviously, Google+ already shared a lot in common with a traditional forum, but this goes a step further and allows anyone to create their own niche forum and community as part of Google+.
Google+ Communities are not a replacement for hosting your own community. They have the same issues that many remotely hosted community solutions have. Can you use your own domain name, as such, create transferable value with search engines? You can’t – you can’t take your Google+ Communities address with you. Can you go deeper than the functionality Google+ Communities allows you, adding custom functionality? You can’t – you have what Google+ allows you to have. Most importantly, can you export the data of the community into a format you can actually use to change to a different platform? You can’t. Google holds all of the keys here and there is nothing wrong with that. It is their platform. But, it is important to remember these things as it helps to view Google+ Communities in the proper light.
I think that Google+ Communities work well and can add a lot of value for Google+ users. They could prove to be a very popular feature and a useful tool for community managers. That is, if we don’t hype them to death.