One month in, here’s a look at three signs that Google+ is here for the long haul - and two signs that it’s doomed to fail.
Sometimes it seems like the population of the Internet has broken down into two camps: Those who think Google+ is the social networking equivalent of the Second Coming, and those who insist on fence-sitting, waiting to see how the fledgling Google+ deals with its first wave of crises before they jump over from Facebook.
In fact, some naysayers, like those at Business Insider, are wondering if Google+ has already peaked, with users decreasing while the gender ratio gets even more weighted towards males. All the same, Google+ has racked up an impressive 20 million users in the month or so since launch.
So keeping that in mind, here’s a look at three signs that the optimists are right and Google+ is here for the long haul - and two signs that Google+ is doomed to fail.
Google+ is here to stay:
1. Humor: Everybody’s a comedian, it seems, when it comes to Google+. SomeEECards.com notes the last person to group his friends into Circles. Web cartoonist Matthew Inman, better known as “The Oatmeal,” offers this Lion King-infused take on Google Circles, while this cartoon on Google vs. Facebook vs. MySpace has been making the rounds on sharing sites like Reddit. And there are far more examples out there.
Why am I pointing this out? Because all these jokes indicate that users grasp Google+ and what it tries to do enough to both make these jokes and understand them. Where users used to make jokes about Facebook’s creepy “Big Brother” functionality, cracks about Google Circles stand in their place.
Basically, if you so much as smiled at one of these, Google+ has its hooks in you.
2. Growing Fast: Three weeks in, Google+ hit a solid 10 million users, and that was while invitations were still pretty scarce. That number just shy of doubled to 18 million less than a week later, and two days after that Google+ hit 20 million registered users. That’s especially impressive considering that it’s still technically a field test, though Google Gmail was in beta for years.
Even celebrities and public figures are jumping on the Google+ bandwagon, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (whose first contributions to his followers were pictures of a kitten), singer Taylor Swift, and, perhaps unfortunately, socialite and reality television star Paris Hilton. Love them or hate them, prominent figures jumping aboard a social network is a bellwether of staying power.
It seems that even Google was caught flatfooted by Google Plus’ appeal. But the search giant is moving to build out Google+ with talent and technology acquisitions like that of Fridge, which will enhance Google Circles for users in as-yet undeclared ways. And at the same time, Google+ is letting corporations join in with special business profiles while promising that games are soon to come.
3. Angry Users: Hear me out on this one - yes, users are putting together their own wishlists of things they wish Google+ would include, or problems and flaws that need fixing. But as ZDNet’s own Steven J. Vaughan noted on the occasion of Ms. Hilton’s Google+ debut, it’s very often from a place of love for the product.
After all, Google+’s privacy-based approach has gained the social network its fair share of fans, and it would be stranger than anything if they couldn’t work up the passion to brainstorm improvements. And unlike Facebook, where users now tend to take odd changes to privacy and functionality settings as the norm, Google+ is still very much a work in progress.
So, all that said, the case could be made that upset Google+ users are just die-hard fans in the making.
Google+ is doomed to fail:
1. History: Google Buzz, too, launched amidst a flurry of hype. Not only was it a short honeymoon - Google wound up paying $8.5 million in a privacy lawsuit. Buzz is still in operation, but enthusiasm for it died out both within and without Google very quickly, and it looks like the search giant has stopped development on its Twitter competitor altogether.
That’s an extreme case, but at least Buzz survived Google’s loss of interest. Google Wave, the company’s big play into combining instant messaging, was killed entirely when it failed to find its audience. Same for Google Health and Google PowerMeter.
Now, I’m not saying that Google shouldn’t phase out products that aren’t making it money. The “Don’t Be Evil” catchphrase aside, Google is a business, and it would be doing its shareholders a disservice if it were investing time and cash into unprofitable ventures.
But visits to Google+ are showing signs of decline, even as Wall Street analysts have begun worrying about Google’s ROI and margins on the social endeavor. And from a personal, anecdotal perspective, it seems that my Google+ feed is a veritable ghost town sometimes, and the only really regular users I follow are those on Google Inc.’s payroll.
2. Angry Users: Everything I said above about passionate users still applies. But angry users are angry users, and when Google+ is deleting user profiles for violating its rules about tying a Google Profile to a real name, without explaining the reasoning to the user, anger can override passion.
And that’s putting aside the bad PR around the time William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, was temporarily banned from Google+ for being too popular. And ZDNet’s Violet Blue has called Google+ “Fast, cheap, and out of control,” in a harsh criticism of Google’s rules around adult content (or lack thereof).
Essentially, users want more communication and guidance from Google than they’ve been getting, though the search giant has met in the middle in some cases. In other words, it seems like Google+ may be a revolutionary approach to social networking, but it comes with some lousy customer service.
No Clear Answers
At the end of the day, it’s easy for cynics to call Google+ a Facebook-killer and then get frustrated when the house that Zuckerberg built is still standing a month later. But Facebook took seven years to get where it is, while Google+ has had a month almost exactly to the day.
Give it another six months, and see if Google+ has kept growing its users. Maybe then, we’ll have some hints as to the future of the Google+ vs. Facebook fight for supremacy. But when it comes to a company like Google, even six months is practically a lifetime. Just look how much chatter Google+ has generated in just one.