The reports that Google+ traffic is dropping since the move to public beta have prompted a plethora of posts, almost gleefully, claiming the service is failing but by what definition is this the case?
The problem with Google+ is a problem of perception.
Google+ is not just another social network but we have a problem: the social networking component - The Stream – is currently front and centre so it is unsurprising that, at this stage, it is still being viewed (and reviewed) as a social network and nothing else. Under these conditions the functionality on offer is obviously going to be compared with the dominant forces in this area.
I have spoken before about the duality of the service - is it a social network, a social layer or both – and the current lack of functionality beyond core networking leads most to treat Plus as a poor man’s Facebook without seeing or understanding the potential. Bradley Horowitz’s statement that “Google+ is Google itself” illustrates where this is heading but what you see is what you get in most people’s minds.
Plus also aims to be an identity provider but movement is necessarily slow and, beyond some integration with Picasa, Maps and YouTube, we have seen little to show how this will work and whether that identity provision with be used for third parties.
As the social side is most prevalent Eric Schmidt probably didn’t help the situation by calling this aspect “bait” for the identity service causing some angry responses at the time arguing that Plus was little more than just a sham to get our data – awkward.
Google are in this for the long game and obviously have a road-map laid out – the vision is there but the issue is the timescale of implementation; the longer it takes for Google+ to become integrated with other Google services the worse the reaction will become. Plus is, at present, only a partial implementation of a holistic approach and only a short way in to the route on that road-map; the trick will be to keep everyone interested on the journey without the inevitable cries of “are we there yet?”
The wrong questions
When tech journalists ask “What is going to compel users to spend time on Google+?” they are ultimately asking the wrong question but, unfortunately, it is presently the only valid question based on the existing state of the service.
I have previously argued that Google needed a destination and Plus fits the bill. By also being a social layer it is not just a destination but also a framework to improve the experience in other areas, a framework on which, eventually, everything Google does will be built. As such, users won’t need to explicitly spend time on the Google+ site because using just about any other Google product will automatically be utilising the social layer elements of the service – there will be no need for hundreds of millions to feel the need to engage at the “Stream” on a daily basis as they will instead be engaging wherever they are consuming or uploading their content.
Horowitz has stated that there is currently no plan for how to monetise Plus but there doesn’t need to be directly. By capturing our interactions and relationships with content and each other Google will better learn our likes and passions and use these patterns to better target us via the channels they already have.
Time and tide
Google+ represents a huge leap forward in the social sphere for Google and it is evident that serious consideration has been put in to the way social should be integrated into the Google ecosystem but time may be the biggest enemy to convincing the consumer that they should spend their time within this ecosystem rather than within the confines of Facebook. Plus must offer a coherent, consistent experience to demonstrate its worth.
Ironically, Google+ has the advantage of not being just another social network as many envisage it to be. Because it will flow through your whole “Google experience” the service will succeed at improving our time within Google services even if it the networking component may lag behind the competition. The question then becomes how many users is it being a success for and will Google be provided with the information they desire?
The social networking element may be bait but, once the user has been hooked, there needs to be substance behind the enticement. Delays in providing this substance will be Plus’ downfall as each user who fails to find reason to stay will be lost in The Stream - the one that got away.