It’s been a solid three weeks since Google+ launched and the internet is still talking about it. That’s not surprising for a high-profile service, but Google’s other social endeavors flickered out fast. The fact that Google+ is still being talked about, and often in a positive light, just might mean that Google got things right. That’s not to say there still aren’t challenges on the horizon. Social media remains a zero-sum game - there are only so many places people can allocate time. If the experience is good enough, though, I absolutely believe Google+ could become the social hub of choice.
Google+ is Google’s best social product by a long shot. It’s good enough, in fact, to have drawn more than 10 million users. According to Paul Allen, founder of Ancestry.com who has been aggregating Google+ stats, the service may break the 18 million user mark as early as this week. That’s a huge accomplishment, and it puts Google on pace to reach the 100 million user mark in a year’s time, especially if invites get easier to come by along the way. But numbers aren’t everything, and just because Google has 18 million users doesn’t mean those people are actively using the service.
This remains Google’s biggest challenge - how can they convince people to switch? I have 80 friends on Facebook, people that I want to hear from on a regular basis. I have 39 people in circles on Google+, and I’ve spent some time digging around to see if there’s anyone out there worth following that I don’t actually know in real life. So far, I haven’t had much luck. I’ve picked up a few people from Twitter and random game developers I’m interested in, but none of them have actually provided me with any social value. That’s not to say they can’t or won’t, but for me, social media is still about staying connected to people with whom I’ve developed relationships. Some of those have developed over the web, but I can’t think of one that got started on essentially anonymous conversations over Facebook. Granted, I’m not everyone, and I know people use social media differently than I do, but everyone wants value from their social experience. Right now, Facebook provides that - the people I know that use social media are using Facebook. Who’s using Google+? Guys, and lots of them.
Early stat reports suggest that the vast majority of people on Google+ are male. Conservative estimates are claiming 74 percent, but there are some sources that claim as much as 87 percent of the Google+ population is male. It’s no secret that males often adopt new tech at a higher rate than women, but for a social service this is a very bad thing. As with any community, virtual or real, Google+ needs balance, and I think this gets back at the value issue. My most active Facebook friends are at least 90 percent women. They post often, have great engagement with their friends, and have pumped hours of content into Facebook. How will Google get them to switch? The value needs to be immediately visible for highly active users to commit. Those users don’t want to wait for another 20-30 million people. They have value from their social media now. Any replacement needs to provide that value just as quickly.
Facebook converts may be in short supply on Google+ but Twitter converts are everywhere. Robert Scoble, one of the most followed people on Google+ and a tech giant in his own right, recently wrote that Google+ has made Twitter boring. I’ll leave you to read his full analysis, but the basic point is that Google+ gives users the same huge potential distribution network that Twitter does, but it shows engagement right up front, making it easy to tell which of your posts are the most interesting and controversial. This is a huge boon for Google and something Twitter should be really worried about. I currently use Twitter sparingly because it’s just not that interesting. I’ll check it here an there, but even the most interesting content on Twitter requires all sorts of digging to get involved in the conversation. With Google+ the whole thing is threaded, so I can see the conversation as I’m reading the post. Circles allow public and private social sharing to coexist in equally valuable ways. Essentially, Circles are what Twitter’s Lists should have been.
As I mentioned in the intro, Google is up against our daily schedule. Our use of and engagement with social media is totally dependent on time, and there just isn’t room for more social services. As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner recently said at a Churchill Club event, "Unlike social platforms and TV, which can coexist, you don't see people using Twitter while they're using Facebook, or using Facebook while they're using LinkedIn." There isn’t room in the market for Google to sit alongside Facebook or Twitter and still see significant usage. Google+ either needs to find a way to pull massive numbers of users off Facebook or leverage its strengths over Twitter. If it can’t do either, Google+ will be going the way of Buzz and Wave in a hurry.