Blog — The Snow Report

One Month Later: Google+ Treads Water

Posted on August 3, 2011 by

As advertisers continue to flock to Facebook, many are wondering if Google+ has the makings of a solid competitor to the world’s top social networking site. Whether Google+ will become a successful social media service with a dedicated user base remains to be seen. However, in the one month since its launch one thing has become apparent: this is no Facebook killer. Here’s why.

Engagement Overload

You’re on Facebook. Probably a majority of the people you know are on Facebook. The site has over 750 million users, many of whom check the site constantly. LinkedIn continues to gain influence. Not to mention Twitter, Tumblr, FourSquare and countless other social platforms that integrate these big hitters into their sharing options (Xbox LIVE, for example). How many people do you think are eager to manage yet another online profile? Especially when everyone that’s on Google+ is already on Facebook. Eventually, social media saturation is reached and choices must be made.

In addition, participation within these networks generally involves posting detailed personal information: birth date, email, phone number, political views, location, etc. At what point will users shy away from giving this information to yet another corporation?

You’re Already Hooked

Business blogger and fellow skeptic Mark Schafer points out on his blog {grow} that, “…Facebook may be entrenched as the king of social networking sites for a long time because the emotional and psychological cost of switching to something else is too high.”

Exactly. Those that check in and update their Facebook profile regularly have built up tremendous loyalty to the service, whether they realize it or not. It’s not uncommon for today’s college students and recent grads to have over 1,000 friends on Facebook. Many have dozens of photo albums. Starting over would be no simple task. On the flip side, the older generation is still cautiously dipping its toes in the Facebook waters. To many of them, Google+ remains foreign altogether. Consider this invitation to Google+ I posted recently:





My Facebook friend is not exactly an early adopter. Now we expect Grandpa to begin using Circles and Sparks?

Social Segmentation

Speaking of Circles, this feature is a key differentiator. Essentially it takes one’s “friends list” a step further, allowing the user to segregate contacts into specific groups, then interact with each group as they please. It’s a feature that many have requested of Facebook as friend lists have evolved to include more coworkers and family members. And certainly having more control over one’s message is a positive thing. But it also has potential drawbacks, like requiring more effort to manage, the potential for user mistakes and the knowledge that you could be in someone’s circle titled “Jerks I Ignore”. (One does not have the ability to see what others have named their circles, or who is in them.)

No Third-Party Support

At least, not yet. Facebook embraced third-party development, which brought a new level of interactivity and innovation to the site. Farmville and Mafia Wars are just two hugely popular examples of what third-party support can bring.

From Math to Social Science

Can a company that knows algorithms and search technology also strike gold with social networking? It’s the same question many asked at the launch of Google Wave (and what a debacle that turned out to be!)

Paul Adams is a former Google employee that joined Facebook shortly before the launch of Google+. He recently felt the need to clarify a few things about his departure from Google, and described his frustrations this way: “Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level. Ultimately I felt that although my research formed a cornerstone of the Google social strategy, and I had correctly predicted how other products in the market would play out, I wasn’t being listened to when it came to executing that strategy. My peers listened intently, but persuading the leadership was a losing battle. Google values technology, not social science.” [emphasis added]

On the Plus Side

Still, despite a plethora of obstacles, it’s foolish to count Google out entirely over the long term. The company is flush with cash, employs many brilliant minds, and is already one of the world’s best-known brands. Millions of people use the company’s variety of products such as Gmail, YouTube, Picasa, Maps and of course the search engine itself.

Google+ does have some very good things going for it, too. “Hangouts” are video web chats that allow up to ten participants at once. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, one can edit their posts after publishing. And simply by not being Facebook, a certain segment will be eager to give it a try.

Google execs are referring to Google+ as a “project,” not a product. Eventually it will be open to everyone, not just those who have received an invitation. Currently the network does not support advertising, although we can expect that to change at some point. But judging from what I’ve seen so far, Facebook doesn’t have much reason to be worried.

Leave a Reply