Blog Post

Why we shouldn’t be so quick to write Google+ off

Although Google+ (s goog) is still only a few months old, there seem to be plenty of people willing to write it off as doomed, or close to it. Steve Rubel of Edelman says that he has given up on it, Robert Scoble says its brand pages are a mess, and Farhad Manjoo at Slate argues it’s all but dead, killed by its failure to offer enough right out of the gate. While it would be tempting to agree that Google has flubbed yet another attempt at social networking, since its track record in that area is so famously underwhelming, there are good reasons to believe that Google+ will be around for a while. If anything, it is only beginning to show its real power.

Rubel says he has quit the network because there just isn’t enough going on there in terms of engagement, and so he has retreated to his Tumblr blog and to Twitter (Rubel, the head of digital strategy for the global Edelman PR agency, recently nuked his blogs and switched over to Tumblr as his main communications channel). Others, including Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have also complained that Google+ doesn’t offer enough to make it worth their while, and that the “signal-to-noise” ratio on the network is too low, despite Google’s circle-based follower system.

For his part, Robert Scoble says Google’s rollout of brand pages is flawed in a number of crucial ways, despite the fact that the company has been working on this feature for some time, and has an obvious model for how pages should work in Facebook. Scoble notes that pages can’t be added to or modified by more than one person — which makes them difficult to use for companies with social-media teams — and others have pointed out that Google’s policies currently prevent brands from offering contests or promotions directly on their Google+ pages, which seems shortsighted at best.

Is Google+ fatally flawed? Far from it

Manjoo, meanwhile, seems to be arguing that all these flaws mean Google’s “beta mode” approach has failed them, and Google+ is functionally crippled to the point where it will never be able to compete with Facebook. As he puts it:

Although Google seems determined to keep adding new features, I suspect there’s little it can do to prevent Google+ from becoming a ghost town. Google might not know it yet, but from the outside, it’s clear that G+ has started to die

I’m far from being the biggest supporter of Google+ (Scoble seems to be happy to claim that role). I’m still not convinced that enough “normals” — i.e. non-geeks — are going to adopt the platform, despite Google’s claim that it has more than 40 million users, and there are a number of things that have bugged me about the service, including the company’s steadfast refusal to allow pseudonyms until recently. I also haven’t found the signal-to-noise ratio to be all that high, despite my use of Circles — but then, it took me two years before I got Twitter to the point where it was providing a consistently high signal.

But the problem with many of these criticisms — as with Manjoo’s premature obituary writing — isn’t just that social networks take time to evolve, and users need time to find out what they are useful for and what they aren’t useful for (Twitter is a perfect example of that, since its own creators didn’t really know what it was for when they built it). The problem is that they are seeing Google+ as JASN: just another social network. So Manjoo seems to be saying that Google has no chance because Facebook is too well-established, has too many features, too many users, etc.

Google has some powerful levers yet to pull

But Google has made it clear it has bigger plans for Google+ than just making it a Facebook clone. Chairman Eric Schmidt has said the company wants to make the network an identity platform for all of its properties: something it’s already in the process of doing by integrating it into products like Google Reader, and it’s building support for it into search as well, with the launch of what it calls “Direct Connect,” which will allow users to go from a search result to a company’s Google+ page with a single click. Can Facebook offer that?

And that’s likely just the beginning: Google could easily extend the integration of Google+ into its Chrome browser, as some have speculated it might, and it hasn’t even turned on what could be one of the biggest drivers of adoption: integration with Gmail. That’s hundreds of millions of people being connected to Google+ immediately from their email inbox, another thing Facebook can’t offer. (It has tried moving into unified messaging as a way of increasing its hold over users, but so far the jury is out on that strategy).

As Edd Dumbill of O’Reilly argued recently, Google is pretty well positioned to turn Google+ into a “social backbone” — something far more advanced and pervasive than just a social network. Obviously, Facebook would like to fill this kind of function as well, but it is missing many of the crucial ingredients that Google has, and it’s also a much more walled-garden approach, which could impede its progress. Facebook is more than happy to have you build apps and services that work on Facebook, but it’s a lot less interested in being open than Google is, and that makes it a somewhat harder sell.

So yes, Google+ is noisy for some, and for others is a ghost town. Many of its features are raw and need work, like the brand page rollout. But Google isn’t just trying to build a place to share photos of your cat; it wants Google+ to be a social layer for everything it does, and it has some powerful levers it can pull when it comes to encouraging people to use it, such as search and email. The full impact of that integration remains to be seen, but it is far too soon to call the network dead or a loser. It’s barely even the third inning.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users World Economic Forum

33 Responses to “Why we shouldn’t be so quick to write Google+ off”

  1. In my opinion, Google’s failure here is marketing. Most people I talk to have no idea what Google+ even is. And most of my friends are fairly “plugged-in”. If Google can’t get the word out to the every day “non computer-savvy” user, then it is doomed to fail. GOOGLE NEEDS TO ADVERTISE!!!!!

  2. It’s summed up here: “But Google isn’t just trying to build a place to share photos of your cat; it wants Google+ to be a social layer for everything”

    They didn’t shut down a large proportion of their properties to make this fail. I’ve seen similar predictions about the button (the +1) when that was all it was just a few months ago, look where we are.

    Love it, loath it Google+ is here to stay! Get used to the idea.

  3. Webgrrlॐ

    Im really really hoping that Google+ PAGES will intergrate a Lite type of Blogger – now i think that would KILL Facebook, giving business real ‘pages’ within their ‘page.. as oppose to how in Facebook you have to create Landing pages, usually thru another third party. Google has already have this tools (and many others, eg; Google Docs, Prensentation, etc) – i Hope the Google team will look at everything they already have, and bring it into G+Pages instead of trying to reinvent the wheel..

  4. I just can’t get past the idea that the same company that offers a social network also has access to my email. I just don’t trust Google to not link the two (it will be a “feature” that we all want, right?). Plus, I hate that it forces Picasa integration. So I have separate accounts for G+ and GMail/Picasa use. And remember, Facebook is completely opt-in: only information I add is present in my Facebook account. Google links in data it already has on my account. And yet people constantly overlook that fact and talk about how much better Google is at privacy and security.

  5. When I read quotes like the ones in this article it just makes the people spouting this nonsense seem dumb. The dude from Slate particularly so. That guy has blown all his credibility with me at this point.

    The problem with these internet superego blow-hards is that they sign up for a new service and expect the world to flock to them. And G+ isn’t (or hasn’t been, before Pages) the kind of place where you broadcast one-way. Google+ is about interactions and conversations. It isn’t Facebook and it isn’t Twitter; it’s something different.

    And it certainly isn’t dead or empty. Maybe their Circles are because no one is up for listening to their self-aggrandizing spiels. But my Google+ is, if anything, too full. It’s becoming a threat to my productivity because there is ALWAYS interesting conversations going on.

  6. Alan Langford

    Google is suffering from a bad case of refusing to grow up. “Release early, release often” is a great strategy when you’re an entrepreneurial venture, but at the enterprise level it translates to “fail early, lose consumer confidence”. I agree that they will iterate Plus to the point where they finally get it right, but their blind attempt to maintain an entrepreneurial culture at the expense of a more structured, strategic approach is stupendously expensive.

    It pains me to say it, but Google could really do with a large, bureaucratic, process bound product launch mechanism that gives them enough time to launch the right product the first time, to support it with consistent messaging, set expectations that will be met, and to tie it to a well structured marketing plan.

    As it stands they run the risk of having people ignore new products and services until consumers gain confidence that it’s worth investing time and energy, a self-defeating proposition.

  7. “it took me two years before I got Twitter to the point where it was providing a consistently high signal.” Well isn’t that a fact. I was about to say Google+ just doesn’t have the power of a playing field that say Facebook has, then I read what you said above. It took me about 2 years to figure how to use Twitter effectively. When they first started, it looked so foreign, now you can’t keep me off there. But still. I’m not sure I’m too crazy about Google+…we shall see.

  8. Eric Ungs

    Google has always had problems with there beta testing. The space is overwhelmed with new networks. With G+ as it stands today, it is essentially a clone or a mashup, of what already exists (Facebook, TWitter). Remember, Facebook during it’s creation was extremely simple. G+ will get noisy. The “Direct Connect” feature is legitimate. But for G+ to be attractive that should have been a feature right out of the box. Those add-on’s (Google Reader, Brand Pages) are what will make G+ truly unique and different. This should have been established at initial release. I wouldn’t count on Gmail to increase adoption. Look what happened with Buzz. Just because it’s automatically integrated doesn’t mean they’re active. Right now, I just don’t see this going beyond the techy geeks – to the widespread audience. If those additional features are integrated soon there may be a chance. As for brands, it seems they’re almost forced to participate because of the talk around the impact of search. That to me is misleading and creates false communities.

    Thanks for the post Mathew!


  9. I’m getting it that once Google + starts being integrated with search that it will just get bigger and bigger. I’ve already integrated my Page with my site, and established that I’m the author of my blog as I can see the impact of the little faces appearing (presumable of people in my circles or those whose posts I have Plus One’d previously?) when I search, they do draw the eye and imply authority. However, I find the stream messy looking and un-intuitive (and I’m an early adopter who GOT Twitter straight away) and I hate, hate, hate the new look Gmail to the point where I’m in despair as I can’t go back to Outlook! So the jury’s out here but I think we have no choice. Nice move Google!

  10. I wondered why I hadn’t read much of Steve Rubel lately. You just explained it: “(Rubel, the head of digital strategy for the global Edelman PR agency, recently nuked his blogs and switched over to Tumblr as his main communications channel)”

    This ceaseless roaming by pundits, hunting like sharks for the next big ‘channel’, means they lose touch with the millions of people who just want to put down roots and use the technology for more than just its own sake.

  11. I’d like to give Google Plus at least a few more months. It took them a while to kill Buzz, right? And so far, they’v been adding some great features such as Pages, which business people should check out. Besides Mark Garner is right. Google Plus appears cleaner and hopefully more secure than Facebook.

  12. LeGrand Johnson

    I don’t think it’s fair to put Scoble in the same camp as the others. He’s been one of the most staunch Google+ supporters from the beginning and he still supports it. He’s pointed out, accurately, that Pages for large organizations leave much to be desired, at least in the current incarnation. They took plenty of time to “get it right”, and many were expecting more.

  13. Radhakrishnan

    Very interesting views. Personally I prefer Google + over Facebook. It is clutter free and easy to use. However, I don’t know how the ‘levers’ are going to turn things around
    1) Hard to imagine why all my 500+ facebook friends would move to Google+ overnight. Takes too much effort and time. Nothing is drastically wrong with facebook
    2) Chrome’s browser market share globally is just over 20pc, long way to go before any social integration begins to make serious impact
    3) People (at least in the country I live) tend to keep formal communication channels like email away from their social network. Email is typically for official use/correspondence from banks/e-statements and people prefer keeping their IDs private.

  14. Sorry to disappoint those that actually want Google+ to die, but Google+ is just starting to get mainstream. And here’s the reason why:

    Remember how Twitter an Facebook got a HUGE boost in popularity once they started being used in the last election campaign? Google+ should get a similar boost this campaign, and it will get in the mainstream because of it.

    • Janine Quatrevingt

      Thx for sharing Lucian. I agree, when brands and personalities broadcast innovative ways to use social platforms – the rest of us get excited and inspired.

  15. I joined G+ just to see where it’s going, and i’ll stick around for about a year….but i do find it messy, and annoying, however if it doesn’t improve and it doesn’t lighten up, (way to serious on here for me) I will leave…and continue, as i pretty much do now…spending time on fb and twitter… preference over this at the moment

  16. Mike Berkley

    The fundamental problem, which no one seems to be talking about, is that Google is just not a cool brand. And that matters a lot with social. Despite its great utility, Google is not a place where most people want to “hang out” or socialize — especially kids and young adults. In social networking, the cool factor is everything.

    • Micah A Círrí

      Wtf are you talking about? lol In whose eyes is Google “not cool”–whatever that means? Whenever a 40-something year old thinks they know what “kids and young adults” like, you know that chances are the truth is probably the direct opposite.

  17. The whole integration issue could back fire if they get the feature set right only on the 3rd try, like good old MS used to do. Or force it onto people. I also agree with some that the invite only, beta thingy is so early 00’s. If one applies Metcalf’s “law” to peoples connections then that’s not a smart thing to do.

    Anyway for your enjoyment:

  18. Sam Lanza

    It is far too early to write off Google when it comes to social networking. I’m sure there were plenty of chicken little’s out there making prophesies of doom and gloom when the Android smartphone hit the market since Apple had it all but locked up at the time. About 2 years later, Android phones are dominating the world market. One need only look at the leverage Google will yield with YouTube (which gets about the same amount of hits as facebook), gmail, and especially Android phones to realize that Google is not out of this thing yet. Anybody who thinks otherwise is either naive or just a Facebook fanboy.

  19. Link Worx Seo - Internet Marketing

    I think Google+ is here to stay and honestly I have found it to be very useful thus far. I have been using Google as a marketing tool and a personal social tool as well. We all know that changes are to come and FaceBook will counteract it with new features of their own. As an example, already there is a popup telling me FaceBook is restoring the chronological display option in the news feed. I have not even finished writing this post yet and getting updates of what they are doing. I like Google+ and have been using it more than FaceBook, but still use each to each own.

  20. 3rd inning? This game has just begun. Notice the recent changes to Gmail? Looks a more like a conversation than just a chain of emails. Notice that pervasive black bar across the top of all Google products? Wait until Gmail, YouTube, and Google IPs broadcast their notifications in that bar and begin blurring the line between G+ and currently disparate services.

  21. Rebecca Sherman

    Great article; fair, unbiased synopsis. I think the G+ interface is much cleaner and easier on the eyes than FB, and I’m looking forward to watching it grow.

  22. Mark Garner

    Personally I find G+ far easier to use than Facebook. G+ is just intuitive whereas everytime I go to Facebook it’s like WTF have they done now? and where is that feature and how do I do that again? Oh you got rid of it. Damn.

  23. John Reindoer

    Google+ will die eventually, just like its predecessor Buzz. Partly because Google is really bad at marketing their tools, and + simply isn’t up to par with Facebook.

    I’ve always wondered how a business like Google, that is so successful in its core business can be so bad at marketing. They have SO many tools that almost nobody has ever heard of, it’s like they don’t want people to use them. + is actually the second thing (next to Chrome) that I have seen being promoted on their frontpage, the rest is hidden away at your account settings.

    They’ve had their chance and attracted a lot of tech savvy people. Eventually the new wore off and a lot of those people stopped using it as well. So why would normal people suddenly switch to it now?

    If they want Facebook’s business they should start marketing it more agressively, add more features and make it more userfriendly.