Rarely is it inexplicable why something hasn’t worked.
The things that succeed are the few, are the exceptions. Most technology projects aren’t huge successes.
But the odds are stacked so heavily in favour of Google Plus that it’s almost hard to believe it isn’t the world’s best and most popular site already. And it’s clearly not. I don’t need to analyse huge volumes of data to know this. I can just do what everyone else does, which is to log into the service and see absolutely nothing of interest everyday. I only know a couple of people who work at Google, but they are the main contributors I see in G+, along with a number of social media ‘gurus’. This is despite:
1. It being promoted on the front page of Google, one of the world’s most visited pages
2. Being an almost exact rip off of what is *actually* the world’s most popular website
3. Full integration with Picasaweb, YouTube, and even the chatty text in gmail:
4. Great social matching and a huge volume of people signed up.
5. Every Google employee has been tasked with making this a success
6. Quickly baked in Android and good apps on several mobile platforms
So, what on earth isn’t working about it? Why is there so much less to it than meets the eye?
I was in China a while back and was amazed by the story of the Chinese ‘Facebook equivalents’. Those sites (Renren, QZone, Kaixinn001) have grown very quickly. To say they’re similar to Facebook is something of an understatement – often they’re fairly shameless rip offs, even taking some of the graphics directly, or implementing copycat features within weeks – but they’re very successful, not least because Facebook itself is blocked.
But not Google.
The really worrying time for Google, I would have thought, is not having noone signed up. It’s having huge volumes of people ‘signed up’ to the service and still no one is using it.
Why don’t people engage?
My suspicion is that whilst G+ may functionally work very similarly to Facebook, users are failing to see it as more than a pale imitation of the market leading service. If we’d never seen Facebook (or it was closed down by the government) then perhaps we’d all be flocking to G+. As it it, aside from a little initial interest, users seem to not see the point of the new service. And that perhaps is at the heart of why Google + feels so flat.
They might be capitalist monsters now but its not hard to believe that Facebook is genuinely driven to connect people on line, to become the social fabric of the web. Perhaps it was always purely to inflate Zuckerberg’s ego but it doesn’t matter. He had an objective in mind and he went for it. And Facebook has always felt like a site that is about enabling the user to build and communicate with a network.
G +…. Meh. If it has an identifiable purpose, it doesn’t feel like it relates to the user. Even the casual user must be thinking – Google’s doing this to gather data on me. Facebook has always been remarkably canny at the psychology of sharing: just enough subtlety about what you share, which of your friends you see updates for (without needing to explicitly state it), clever language to encourage interaction. Google’s version seems less human (surprise!), less useful. By trying to be a broadcast platform and an intimate platform at the same time, it’s perhaps trying to do too much, or it’s become too difficult to understand.
We’ve seen a few projects die. Google especially has spent the last few months spring cleaning the projects they don’t think are viable.
How will G+ pass away? It’s going to be very hard to remove it from so many of the Google services. But I suspect they will eventually need to go back to doing what they do best – monitoring, users, sites and information covertly, rather than explicitly. Deducing what we like rather than asking us to indicate it directly.