GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS
3 reasons Google+ is a minus
Editor's note: This article was updated Aug., 1, 2011 to correct the number of Facebook users.
With everything else happening over the past week, it was little noticed that traffic on the newly-launched-but-still-in-beta Google+ social networking site fell in its second week. Is this a failure of Google to present a site significantly different from Facebook, or simply an indication that the world is getting a bit tired of social networking?
I can’t help but think there is some segment of people within government that hope that Google fails, not because of any animosity toward the company but simply because they can’t stand the idea of learning the pitfalls of yet another online tool. After all, federal agencies and individuals are finally getting the hang of how to use and not use Facebook and Twitter.
To be fair, if this were any other company besides Google, the drop-off in users would not be very significant. In its first week, Google+ hosted 1.86 million visitors. This week, it was down to 1.76 million. I think most government agencies, or any website for that matter, would be overjoyed at seeing 1.76 million online visitors in a single week. But this is disappointing for Google because they expect to light a match and catch the world on fire every time.
So why isn’t Google+ catching on? It comes down to three main reasons.
1. How many winners can you have?
Google+ is competing in a race that Facebook has already won. And you need a pretty fast car to win when your competition has already crossed the finish line.
Facebook is closing in on a billion users, currently with 750 million. Think about that a moment. Have three-quarters of billion people ever watched the same movie, read the same book or listened to the same song? Perhaps a few things have achieved that number, but not as quickly as Facebook did. It took McDonald's decades to serve that many burgers.
It’s true that shifts in online user populations have happened before, say, from MySpace to Facebook or from Ulitma Online to World of Warcraft, but never really in huge numbers unless the original company went under, made some incredibly infamous mistake, or simply let technology outpace it.
Even though some users complain about how Facebook handles certain tasks, that hardly amounts to a groundswell of negativity. The complaints aren’t even very hot as tempers go.
2. What’s new about it?
Google+ is not significantly different from Facebook. It arguably has a better interface and I like how it does its friend circles. You can set up the same type of groups within Facebook, but it’s more difficult than it needs to be, and even then it’s less functional.
But Google+ has no killer application. There is no “gotta have” function that can be found only with Google+. One thing that makes Facebook so popular is that the interface is simple enough that anyone can use it, from grandmothers to grandkids. And it works well, so Google is going to have a tough time getting people to learn a new interface so they can do the same thing at a different URL.
I’m not even going to get into the privacy concerns some people have brought up with Google+, other than to say it’s a black mark they don’t really need right now. However, remember that Google+ is still in beta, so there is time to change anything the company wants for the better.
3. Have we reached our limit?
Finally, I do think there is a sort of global fatigue growing with social networking. When I got my invite to Google+ from a friend, I actually cringed. I know I should have been happy, getting invited into the beta, but my reaction was, basically, “Not another social networking tool!”
I ignored it for as long as I could. Junk like Facebook takes up too much of my time as it is — and I’m probably a light user compared with a lot of people. I doubt too many people want to spend even more time uploading pictures of their cats or getting contacted by “friends” they knew in high school.
A good business model is always to identify a need and then meet that need for a profit. I just don’t think there is much of a need for Google+. The company could still prove me wrong; Google has a stunning record of success.
But in this case, I wonder if the emperor really has no clothes. If anyone can get a picture of that, be sure to upload the photo to Facebook and tweet it to all your friends.