Should Google Be Worried about Google+?

What's up with Google+? One day, reports say how much the service has grown, and the very next day, they say just the opposite. The unfavorable reports have even gone to the extreme to call it dead....
Should Google Be Worried about Google+?
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  • What’s up with Google+? One day, reports say how much the service has grown, and the very next day, they say just the opposite. The unfavorable reports about the social network have even gone to the extreme to call it dead.

    Do you use Google+ regularly? We’d love to know.

    While the fact of declaring it “dead” is debatable, there are some definite signs that should cause Google to be concerned. For instance, Dan Reimold, the Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Tampa, wrote a post entitled “Google+: Social Media Upstart ‘Worse Than a Ghost Town,'” in which he not only called the social network dead, but he also gave a bleak prediction:

    “At worst, in the coming months, it will literally fade away to nothing or exist as Internet plankton,” he wrote. “At best, it will be to social networking what Microsoft’s Bing is to online search: perfectly adequate; fun to stumble onto once in awhile; and completely irrelevant to the mainstream web.”

    In an interview with WebProNews not long ago, Reimold told us that he came to this conclusion after he realized that he wasn’t finding anything on Google+ that was more interesting or different from the information he was already finding on his other social networks.

    Also, a chart released by Michael DeGusta showing the inactivity of Google’s own management on Google+ has done nothing but add to this negative outlook. However, since this chart was released, Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, has begun to use the service.

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    The biggest blow for Google and its social network was probably last week when Steve Yegge, one of its own software engineers, accidentally published a not-so-flattering post about Google+ on the network itself. In the post, Yegge essentially pointed out what his employer was doing wrong with Google+, making statements such as:

    Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don’t get it.”

    And this: Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product.”

    Yegge’s post was intended to only go out to his Google circle but was instead shared publicly.

    More recently, data analytics firm Chitika released some research that gives Google yet another reason to be concerned. The company looked at Google+ before and after its public launch in late September. Even though Experian Hitwise reported that Google+ grew 1269 percent in the week following its public launch, Chitika’s data shows this surge was only temporary.

    Gabe Donnini, an analyst with Chitika, explained to us that the traffic to Google+ grew to peak levels immediately after the public launch but then fell over 60 percent shortly after.

    “We just looked at the stats to investigate this trend, and as it turned out, there was a sharp spike and then a sharp decline almost immediately after the days following Google+‘s public beta,” he said.

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    Donnini told us that he believed the traffic spike was driven by the publicity surrounding the public launch. However, Chitika decided to investigate further and extend the research period beyond the week after Google+ opened publicly. What it found was that the downward trend actually got worse. According to its research, the largest drop in traffic for Google+ was more than 70 percent.

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    Last week in Google’s Q3 earnings report, CEO Larry Page proudly said that Google+ had surpassed 40 million users.

    Google+ is now open to everyone and we just passed the 40 million user mark,” he said. “People are flocking into Google+ at an incredible rate and we are just getting started!”

    This is a large number especially considering that the network has only existed for a few months. But, as Chitika data shows, it doesn’t mean that all these users are active.

    According to Donnini, the lack of activity from users is due to many reasons. First of all, users can’t import or sync their existing networks into their Google+ network.

    “There’s very little incentive to share if you don’t have anyone to share with,” he said.

    He also believes that users are inactive because it took Google a long time to make its API available to developers. As he explained, a large part of the success of social networks is due to the network of services that are built on the overall platform.

    “By not providing a developer API in which a useful network of services could be built for their users, Google basically made it much harder for their users to find a way to (a) stay on the site, and (b) they kind of lowered the utility of Google+ as a site for their new userbase,” he said.

    He also pointed out, “They don’t need to become Facebook, they need to become what Facebook is going to become.”

    Interestingly, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Google+ czar Vic Gundotra spoke about the social network at the Web 2.0 Summit yesterday. Both indicated they were pleased with the progress of Google+, and Brin even said, “I’m not a social person myself… [but] Google+, I instantly found compelling.”

    Gundotra also said that Google+ would allow support in the near future for pseudonyms as well as for Google Apps users to be able to log into Google+ with their accounts. He also indicated that brand pages would be coming too, but not as quickly as the other features.

    Are these additions enough to save Google+?

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