It has not been a good week for Google+. Yesterday Vic Gundotra head of the Google+ division announced he was leaving Google, then today TechCrunch is reporting 1000-1200 employees will be moved off of Google+ onto other projects.
Many of you may not even know what Google+ is, and there in lies the problem. On the surface, the easy explanation is that Google+ is Google's version of Facebook. It's a social network where people create circles of friends, family and colleagues allowing them to share status updates, pictures, videos, etc. with each other.
However, thinking of Google+ as just a social network does not do it justice. Yes, feature-wise, Google+ is far superior to Facebook. Circles are much better than lists. The Google+ stream has much more functionality than Facebook's news feed. Hangouts are far more advanced than FacebookB Messenger. Google+ photo albums are way better than Facebook's, and the list goes on. But Google+ is more of a "social layer" that a social network. The core components of Google+, including your Google ID, circles and +1's together create a framework that ties together not only Google products, but potentially any other website as well.
So why is it not as popular as Facebook?
There are two theories most commonly discussed:
1) The network effect, where the value of a service is dependant on the number of people using it. In this case, it boils down to "Everyone is already on Facebook, so why would anyone ever use Google+"? Still, there are some communities that are very active on Google+, such as photographers and writers. They have taken to Google+ because of some of the features I've mentioned above were important enough for them to move. Well probably not move, but use Google+ as well as Facebook. But for most people, Facebook does enough of what they need, so why would they use both. Essentially Facebook wins because they were there first. Sure other networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, WhatsApp have come along and won over millions of users. But in each case they provided something Facebook did not, not just a better version of it.
2) Google annoys people by pushing Google+ on them. This one is more technical and impacts less people, but if it bothers you... it really bothers you! What Google did was take Google+ and make it the unifying layer across almost all of Google's services. That means Gmail, calendar, Youtube, Piccasa, Hangouts, Drive and many other products all become linked together via Google+. For example, if you're in your Gmail you can sort or send messages by Google+ Circles. If your posting a file to Drive, you can easily share it to Google+. The one that really annoyes people is that comments on Youtube videos became conversations in Google+.
It's this second theory that troubles me the most. As someone with around 20 years of experience in collaboration software, my advice to Google would have been to do exactly what they did, integrate all their services into a more seamless platform. In fact, here's what I wrote back in 2012:
April 16, 2012 - MyPOV: Google should provide integration with Gmail, Google Docs & Google+ to make their upcoming Google Drive file sharing service standout. Imagine sharing files with specific circles. Imagine saving a file in Google Docs and broadcasting that event to your Google+ stream.
Sept 26, 2012 - I imagine a time in the near future (2013ish) where there will no longer be distinctions between Google, Google+, Google Apps, Gmail, Google Chat, etc. Instead there will just be "Google" which offers many (seamless/integrated) modes of context creation, discovery, communication and collaboration.
I wish I could predict the lottery numbers as accurately.
However, I also wrote
March 10, 2012: I've been asking the non-tech people in my life if they've heard of Google+ and the overwhelming response has been "No. Is that a new search tool?" By no means am I jumping on the "Google+ is a ghost town" bandwagon. I like Google+, but it is clear that it is still FAR from mainstream or a household name the way Facebook and Twitter are.
And that remains true still today.
Yes, Google made several "execution errors" with Google+, starting with the "real name required" scandal up the Youtube comment annoyance, but for me the network effect issue is the main reason I don't spend much time there anymore. It's a shame, because it's a great tool.
What do you think?
Some other posts of mine that provide supporting information about Google+ as a "social layer"
Google 1.0 was a new company that changed the way we search for content on the internet and it became a household name.
Google 2.0 developed a set of consumer services like email, apps, maps, YouTube, etc.
Google 2.5 started to provide those services to the Enterprise and Education markets
Google 3.0 built a revenue model to layer onto #2 via advertising. The majority of non-techies probably have no idea that this is their core business
Google 4.0 is about building a new "social DNA" across all Google properties as well as across the web. This will try together people and content, and provide even more context for Google's Ad business.
June 27, 2012
I think Google is creating an incredible foundation for collaboration with circles and +1's. They are showing what's possible by building UI instances of this DNA with things like Google+, Hangouts, Events and are adding integration with Picassa, YouTube, Google Docs, Gmail and more
March 10, 2012
A private and integrated offering composed of Google Dashboard (iGoogle + Google+'s stream), Google People (Google+'s profile + a nice directory + Circles for groups), a combined version of Google Apps (email, calendar, doc, spreadsheet, presentation) and Google Sites (where circles provide access), Google Media (Video + Picassa) and Google Communications (chat + Hangouts) all wrapped with Google Search, Google Analytics and +1s would be an awesome enterprise collaboration platform.