Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate.com, argues that Google completely blew its opportunity to compete directly with Facebook in the lucrative social media space. He says that when corporations raced to join Google +, they were met with nothing short of shear rejection from the network, that seemed surprisingly unprepared for prime time.
A product manager posted a message discouraging businesses from creating Google+ profiles, and the company began shutting down the profiles posted by renegade firms. This prompted many creative workarounds—TechCrunch jokingly created a page for a fellow named Techathew Cruncherin—but Google was unmoved. (Cruncherin’s profile was shut down.) The episode illustrated a persistent and likely fatal problem for Google’s effort to take on Facebook: There’s nothing to do on Google+, and every time someone figures out a possible use for it, Google turns out the lights.
Manjoo continues on to say that although Google+ has picked up an impressive 40 million users, it has still failed to meet expectations. He says that the marketing muscle alone for Google should have led to at least three times as many users, and that Google may have missed its window of opportunity.
Google did finally release brand pages this week—here’s Slate’s page—but at this point the effort might be moot. The search company says its network has attracted more than 40 million users in the months since it launched, which likely makes Google+ the fastest-growing social network of all time. But considering Google’s marketing muscle—it hasn’t been shy about directing Web searchers to Google+, and everyone who’s logged in to a Google account sees the Google+ toolbar at the top of every Google page—it would be a surprise if Google+ didn’t have so many users.
Manjoo also discusses the fact that Google+ doesn’t offer very many options for user activity, actually boring its users to death. He even mentions that Google execs themselves confess to being bored on their own site. It was only when bloggers noticed that they weren’t posting that they began to be more responsive.
Even Google’s own executives seem to have gotten bored by the site. After several public posts in the summer, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped off the site in the fall; they only started posting once more when bloggers began pointing out their absence. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman and former CEO, posted his first public message when Steve Jobs died. That was three months after the social network went live.
Manjoo seems dead set on the idea that Google+ can’t be salvaged. While some might expect that Google+ can resurrect itself, there is additional uncertainty about whether consumers who once gave it a try can ever be convinced to join once again. Manjoo says that Google+ is going to become a virtual ghost town.
Why am I so sure that Google+ can’t be saved? Because there’s no way to correct Google’s central failure. Back when companies were clamoring to create brand pages on the network—or users were looking to create profiles with pseudonyms, another phenomenon that Google shut down—the company ought to have acceded to its users’ wishes and accommodated them. If Google wasn’t ready for brand pages in the summer, it shouldn’t have launched Google+ until it was. And this advice goes more generally—by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.
Manjoo has a good point. We at Techyville stopped using Google+ long ago. We loved the features that were touted, and felt that they had a comparative advantage by integrating so directly with search engines. But after using the service and finding the features to be increasingly complex, we went back to what we understand best: Our thousands of friends on Facebook.