Friday, January 6, 2012

Google+ Is Great, But...

As much as I love Google+ as a social networking platform, there is a naive optimism among other Google+ enthusiasts about its virtues and its inevitable rise to pre-eminence.

Some of its most vocal proponents, such as Mike Elgan, tend to obfuscate the obvious things keeping it from really exploding. First and foremost is the still quite low active user base. Even though the user number is growing rapidly, the activity rate for the average user is not. There are probably hundreds of thousands of accounts that are either stone dead, or that see very minimal activity.

Proponents have tried to convince me that that is not really a problem because Google+ makes it easier to connect with new people -- rather than people you know in real life for example -- and people of common interests. I've found this to only be true to a limited extent. If one of your main interests happens to be technology, or Google itself, then this is definitely true. If one of your main interests is photography, I've also found this to be true. For whatever reason -- some of them obvious -- Google+ seems to be a fertile environment for online communities of photographers and tech bloggers. The other main interest that Google+ caters to well is interaction with people itself. If you're interested in engaging and interacting with large numbers of people with diverse interests, on widely varying topics, then Google+ can definitely cater to that. And it even provides a pretty unique tool for doing this with hangouts. 

However, if your interests are hip-hop music, Christianity, or literature (for example) you may have trouble finding many interesting communities or people to connect with that are consistently active on these subjects. And it's not as though I haven't tried to find them. I regularly search posts on these and other topics and very rarely find an active poster worth following. Though it's very easy to find "tech bloggers" or "engagers" -- someone I follow just shared a circle of 500 of them. They are everywhere. The problem is, I don't care about tech blogging or shallow 'engaging' with random people on diverse subjects, many of which I have no interest in. Neither do hundreds of thousands of other potential active Google+ers. We want people who share common interests and are active in discussing them in some depth, and these don't yet exist on Google+, for many interests. 

And even when you find an interest that you share with a fairly large number of people, like politics, it's a  very vague and general connection with other people. Rather than a more specific kind of connection i.e. not just politics, but Burkean conservative politics, for example.

Part of the reason Google+ hasn't fully taken off is because a lot of people who try it don't want to put the effort into essentially 'building' and contributing to a new social network, and some others don't really 'get' Google+ and think Facebook meets their needs well enough. Still others, even if they 'get' and enjoy Google+, want to be able to share and interact with their friends, most of whom are still on Facebook and won't be wrested from its clutches. And so, rather than complicate their life, inertia makes them stick with what they know. And it doesn't help that there are no real easy tools for integrating Facebook and Twitter with Google+ (like there are for integrating your Facebook and Twitter together). This makes it an either-or choice for a lot of people rather than a both-and one.

If Google+ is going to ever rival Facebook as an alternative, it has to figure out how to turn the explosive number of users into active communities of posters on a variety of topics. It also needs to find a way to make the transition smoother for people, by catering better to their already existing social networks. Otherwise it will only fill a fairly narrow social-media niche. I agree that Google+ is different in nature from Facebook and Twitter in its fundamental makeup, but it doesn't yet have the content -- in terms of active users supplying it -- to truly be competitive.


  1. In other words, the early adopters (tech people) have adopted Google+ earlier than non-early adopters. The platform is six months old, or something like that. The existence of vibrant communities in hip hop, Christianity and so on are merely a function of mass acceptance of the platform.

    All you're really saying is that the fastest-growing social network in history isn't growing fast enough.

  2. Somewhat, but not exactly. The 'speed of growth' is not the best indicator of success, for some of these very reasons. If it will someday be that these communities are on Google+, and it's just a matter of patience, then I'll be very happy. I'm saying what I think are some reasons it may *never* get there. And if you're happy with its current communities and content already, that's not a problem. But if you like the platform itself, but find the communities and content lacking, then it is a problem,